The 1980s were a boom time for large, colourful murals across London, and for today’s post I am revisiting two of these, to find the sad fate of two Greenwich murals.
Walk east along Creek Road which leaves central Greenwich near the Cutty Sark DLR station, turn right down Horseferry Place, and in 1986 you would have seen the El Salvador mural in all its pristine colours, as photographed by my father:
I recently visited the site, and found the mural in a very sad condition. Very faded and with Sky satellite dishes and a number of lights installed across the mural:
The El Salvador mural, or as it was originally titled “Changing the Picture”, was created for the El Salvador Solidarity Campaign in 1985, the year before my father’s photo.
The El Salvador Solidarity Campaign was based in Islington Park Street and was formed to express support for the people of El Salvador.
El Salvador is a country in central America and during the 1980s was suffering from a violent Civil War that would not really end until 1993, and resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of the country’s population.
The civil war was mainly a conflict between the left wing Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), supported by the neighbouring countries of Nicaragua and Cuba, and the Government of the country, supported by the United States.
The people of the country paid a terrible price during the civil war. There were atrocities committed by both sides, however the military of El Salvador along with “Death Squads” who operated outside the official knowledge of the military or government, would commit the majority.
As well as the internal issues within the country, it was also a proxy conflict between the US and the Soviet Union, with US concern about the potential growth of Communist supporting governments in central America, which could have been the outcome if the US supported government had fallen to the FMLN.
There were a number of international groups supporting the people of El Salvador and the FMLN, including in the US and the El Salvador Solidarity Campaign in London.
The aim of the mural is to show the ordinary people of El Salvador (on the right) taking back control of their country, lives and future by “rolling up the picture”.
The people on the right are depicted in bright colours, with more muted, grey colours for the military, and the military / industrial support that contributed large quantities of arms to the country.
I believe the following extract from the mural shows Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher to the left with a figure representing El Salvador’s military on the right, controlling a puppet soldier:
Whilst the mural was commissioned by the El Salvador Solidarity Campaign, it was funded by the Greater London Council (GLC), and support of initiatives such as the mural was one of the many reasons why the Conservative government of the 1980s would abolish the GLC at the end of March 1986.
The mural was created by the artist Jane Gifford, along with Nick Cuttermole, Sergio Navarro and Rosie Skaife D’Ingerthorpe.
I could not get a photo of the mural at the same angle as my father’s. He was standing in the adjacent school playground, and today this is completely fenced.
The following view shows a wider view of the El Salvador mural, on the side of Macey House which is part of the Meridian Estate:
Macey House is on Horseferry Place, a road that leads down towards the Thames. The name of the road records a ferry that once ran from near the southern end of the road across to the Isle of Dogs.
A short distance from the El Salvador mural, heading back towards Greenwich, along Creek Road was the “Wind of Peace” mural, at point number 2 on the above map:
Although the El Salvador mural is very badly faded, the Wind of Peace has suffered an even worse fate – the mural, along with the building on which it was painted, have completely disappeared.
In the photo below, there is a large new building on the left, with a terrace of smaller buildings further back, heading along Creek Road back into the centre of Greenwich.
The mural was on a building which stood where the large building with the clock is now located. The mural was on the side wall and would have been facing the camera.
The development on the left leading back into Greenwich was following the completion of the Cutty Sark DLR station, which is accessed through a pathway to the left of the van, at the junction of the large and smaller buildings.
The Wind of Peace mural was commissioned by the London Muralists for Peace initiative, as part of the 1983, Greater London Council’s Peace Year.
The mural was painted by artists Stephen Lobb and Carol Kenna, and replaced an earlier mural showing the river and the land alongside the river in Greenwich.
The mural has Greenwich in the centre of the mural, with the residents flying around the view of Greenwich, resisting and destroying missiles which symbolised the threat of nuclear war.
The GLC 1983 Peace Year comprised not just murals, but a whole series of events throughout London. A typical newspaper campaign advert covered:
“Peace is the most important issue facing us all. London could not survive a nuclear holocaust, irrespective of whether it is triggered by miscalculation in Washington or Moscow.
The GLC has declared 1983 Peace Year to give Londoners the opportunity of making a personal commitment to this highest of human ideals.
There can be no better way for people to express their desire for peace than through the Arts. That is why a major part of GLC Peace Year activities will involve supporting drama, film and the visual arts.
Come along and enjoy GLC Peace Year events and activities listed below. Support the cause of peace in London and give a peaceful lead to the world.
April 3 Easter Parade featuring specially commissioned Peace Float, Battersea Park at 3pm
May 1 May Day Festival, Victoria Park – at noon
May 5 Songwriters Competition for Peace – launch
June 4 Free Music Concert for Peace, crystal Palace Bowl at noon
July 16 Peace Concert of Classical Music, Kenwood Lakeside at 8pm
August 6 Hiroshima Day Peace Festival, Victoria Park at noon
August 7 Peace Concert of Classical Music, crystal Palace Bowl at 8pm”
There were many more events in addition to those listed above, including a Festival for Peace at Brockwell Park on May the 7th, which included the Damned, Madness and Hazel O’Conner.
As well as the Arts, Peace Year included other projects such as the construction of a number of “peace gardens” across London, such as the Noel-Baker Peace Garden in Islington.
The civil war in El Salvador ended almost thirty years ago, and the mural is gradually fading as are memories of the war (although the country still does suffer from some instability, including the recent bizarre decision to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender within the country).
The Wind of Peace mural disappeared as did the apparent threat of nuclear war, however with current unpredictable world events – perhaps it may be time for another mural.
I have finally completed the post covering the last stage of the New River Walk, which covers from Alexandra Palace to New River Head in north Clerkenwell.
At the end of the previous stage, we had reached Bowes Park, where the New River disappeared in a tunnel, and for today’s post, we rejoin the New River where it exits the tunnel, opposite Alexandra Palace station.
This stage of the walk will follow the New River from Alexandra Palace to the east and west reservoirs, just south of the Seven Sisters Road, where it ends as a river. Then, the walk follows a Heritage Walk that follows the original route of the river to New River Head before the river was truncated at the reservoirs.
Point S on the map: Alexandra Palace station is at the north west tip of a patch of open, green space, and at the south east corner of this space, the New River exits the tunnel through which it has flowed from Bowes Park:
There is nothing to see of the actual river between Bowes Park and Alexandra Palace, however there are a number of these New River Company pipe markers:
Point 1 on the map: Here, a rather over exposed Alexandra Palace can be seen on the high ground in the distance. Hornsey Water Treatment Works are behind the green metal fencing and the New River runs under the footbridge between the fencing:
The route through Hornsey is an example of where the New River has been straightened and does not follow the original early 17th century route.
The following map from 1861 shows the original early 17th century route (dark blue), along with the proposed new straightened route (light blue):
Hornsey Water Treatment Works are to the left, and the New River runs at the bottom of these works, and heads to Hornsey High Street which it crosses, before turning and crossing Middle Lane. It then heads towards the church and crosses the High Street again, heading up to the junction with Tottenham Lane.
Towards the top of the map, the Great Northern Railway runs from left to right, and below the railway can be seen the proposed new route of the New River, which is straight, and cuts of the large loop around Hornsey.
There are a number of similar examples on the New River Walk where the route follows where the river has been straightened rather than the original route. It would be an interesting exercise to follow the early 17th century route, however I think I will put that walk on the long list of London walks.
Point 2 on the map: There were very few places on the entire route where it was not possible to follow the New River walk, however one place on this final stretch was also in Hornsey where the path had been closed off as Thames Water are carrying out some repair works on the river:
Following photo is looking along the closed section of the walk. This is another straightened section of the New River:
The view looking down one of the streets from Wightman Road, the New River crosses the street half way down:
In the above photo, the streets is dropping in height towards the point where the river crosses about half way down. This stretch of the New River demonstrates how the river follows the contours of the land, from the source in Ware to New River Head. A considerable distance which needed some careful planning, and is remarkable given the survey technologies available in the early 17th century.
I have marked the route of the New River which is following the boundary between the higher land on the left (around Crouch Hill station), and the lower land on the right (south Tottenham and Seven Sisters station).
At one point in the map, an area of higher ground (yellow) juts out, and the New River has been tunneled under this, before emerging and running through the streets to the east of Wightman Road.
Point 4 on the map: After weaving through the streets of terrace housing, the New River emerges into the north east corner of Finsbury Park:
Where there is a plaque recording the origins and purpose of the river:
The New River stays in just the north east corner of Finsbury Park, before crossing under Green Lanes, and reaching:
Point 5 on the map: where the river runs along a narrow green space between an industrial area to the north, school and housing to the south:
In the height map above, the New River is heading towards the reservoirs and is skirting around some higher land to the south, and this is visible as we walk alongside the river, with a downward slope from right to left requiring the river to be banked on the northern side:
North of the M25, between Cheshunt and Ware, there were a number of points where water was being extracted from boreholes and pumped into the New River. There were no examples of this south of the M25, except for one point along this stretch of the walk where four pipes were pumping water into the river, although it was not clear from where this was being extracted.
There is a brick building visible just to the left of where the water is pouring into the river. This is on Eade Road. It houses infrastructure of some sort, and has a 2003 plaque on the outside, but no indication of its function.
The British Geological Survey borehole map lists a borehole under this building, however it is marked as “Confidential” with no data available.
I assume the water running into the New River is from this borehole, however it is strange as to why the record is confidential.
This section of the walk was incredibly muddy, with some sections rather difficult to pass.
At the end, the path runs up to meet Seven Sisters Road, with an information panel covered in graffiti:
For a short distance, the New River Path has joined with another walking route, the Capital Ring:
And one final loop through housing, with a rather muddy path:
Point 6 on the map: The New River now reaches the reservoirs, with what must have been a gauge house, some means of regulating or measuring the flow of the river, straddling the New River just before the reservoirs:
The New River was truncated at the reservoirs at Stoke Newington in 1946, and now feeds water into the reservoirs, as well as running to their north, through the Woodberry Wetlands, an area surrounding the reservoirs that is now managed as a wildlife haven:
Between the east and the west reservoirs is a building that was once part of the New River infrastructure and has now been refurbished as the Coal House Café. The area outside the café was full of families, so I will not include a photo online, however at the side of the building is a record of the creation of the reservoirs by the New River Company:
Also on the side of the building is a wall tie with the initials of the Metropolitan Water Board, the organisation that took over the running of the New River Company’s assets:
View across the east reservoir:
View across the west reservoir:
And a short walk from the west reservoir, we reach the very end of the remaining route of the New River. The last point in the walk from Ware in Hertfordshire, where the river can be seen above ground. It ends in a rather sad dead end:
Just to the left of the above photo is the wonderful 19th century pumping station built by the New River Company:
The Metropolis Water Act of 1852 required that water companies supplying water to London, filter the water prior to distribution, and that any subsequent reservoirs after filtering be covered. The aim was to improve the quality of water and prevent much of the pollution from an industrial city from entering the water supply.
Prior to the act, the New River Company was supplying water directly from the reservoirs, however the act now required filter beds to be constructed, along with infrastructure such as a pumping station, and the building in the above photo was built between 1852 and 1856 by William Chadwell Mylne, the Surveyor for the New River Company.
The building housed steam engines and boilers until 1936 when these were replaced by diesel engines.
By 1971, the pumping station was rather dated and too small, and the design of the building did not support an upgrade, so the Metropolitan Water Board applied for permission to demolish the building.
There was considerable local support to retain the building as it was such a local landmark, resembling an industrial castle alongside Green Lanes.
This campaign resulted in the building being given a Grade II* listing in 1972, however it would continue to stay empty, and under threat.
The Historic England listing record provides a perfect description of the old pumping station, and why it is known as the Castle (Historic England source here):
“Large building designed to resemble a mediaeval fortress with keep and bailey. 1854-6 by Chadwell Mylne. Stock brick with stone dressings. Battlements and large stepped buttresses all around. The “keep” is of 2 storeys with a tall basement plinth. 6 windows on main south-west front. At north-east and south-west corners round towers with square bartizans the former with a tall conical roof and both having battlements crow-stepped up towards them. Continuous quasi-entablature, with cable moulding, running right around towers. Taller octagonal chimney tower to east. 8 steps (the top one with bootscraper!) to entrance in forebuilding running along north wall and into “bailey” building, which is lower with segmental arcading and 2 slit windows in each bay. Important picturesque landmark.”
The building was empty until 1994 when it was converted into a climbing centre. The large internal spaces perfectly suited for such a use. If you walk past, it is worthwhile having a quick look inside, as the building is still the Castle Climbing Centre.
Leaving the pumping station, we are now following the heritage section of the New River Walk. This section of the route has not seen the New River as a stream of water for many years, as the river was buried in pipes during the 19th century, and since 1946, New River water has ended at the reservoirs.
Point 7 on the map: Here we turn off from Green Lanes and into Clissold Park.
The park retains a couple of stretches of the New River, however these are for decorative purposes only, and start and end within the park.
There is a bridge across one of these decorative runs of the river, which has the arms and motto of the New River Company on the side. “ET PLUI SUPER UNAM CIVITATEM” or “And I caused it to rain upon one city” indicated by the hand reaching down from a cloud, and showering rain drops on the city below.
Part of the decorative New River feature running up to Clissold House:
Leaving Clissold Park, and walking along Stoke Newington Church Street, there is another reminder of the New River with the New River Café on the corner with Clissold Crescent:
Walk a short distance along Clissold Crescent, and there is a reminder of the New River:
The plaque reads “The Park Lane bridge was demolished and the road widened June 1881”.
Park Lane was the original name of Clissold Crescent, and the bridge carried Park Lane over the New River.
A version of the Ordnance Survey map from the 1890s shows the Park Lane bridge and the New River, although by this time, the New River should have been carried underground in pipes, and as the plaque reads, the bridge was demolished in 1881 and the road widened, so I suspect the OS map was not updated at this point (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“).
In the above map, the New River heads south between houses, and the route has been preserved and now forms a series of allotments running along the old course of the river:
The path between the allotments ends at Green Lanes (again, almost a constant companion on the southern section of the walk). We cross over Green Lanes to reach;
Point 8 on the map: this is Petherton Road where the New River once ran down the centre of the street, and is now a walkway with trees and grass on either side:
A rather nice ghost sign for Barnes Motors along Petherton Road:
At the end of Petherton Road, the green space gives way to a street which still follows the route of the New River, past Canonbury Station and cross over St Paul’s Road into another section of the New River route that has been transformed into a long green space, with a decorative water feature running the length of the space:
Towards the end of this green space is:
Point 9 on the map: where there is a round brick building alongside the original route of the New River:
The building appears to be a late 18th century watch hut. To protect the New River, the New River Company had a watchman or linesman stationed at points along the route of the river to keep the river clear of debris and also to prevent fishing and swimming in the water, or anything that could pollute the supply.
The brick hut is an example of where such a person would have been stationed to keep watch over the river.
The final stretch of the ornamental water that follows the original route of the New River:
Where the above green space ends, we then walk south along Essex Road, and turn off just before reaching Islington Green, to find Colebrooke Row.
This is another street where the houses were built facing on to the New River, and the space occupied by the river is now a green space running the length of the street.
In the following photo, the houses on the right once looked onto the New River where the grass and trees now run, with the street being on the left:
The white house on the right in the above photo was occupied by the poet and essayist Charles Lamb in the 1820s. The following print shows the house as it was, with the New River running directly in front of the house:
At the end of Sadlers Wells, turn right into Arlington Way, then left into Myddelton Passage, where we come to the official end of the New River Walk, at the viewing platform looking over what was New River Head:
The route is marked on the ground of the viewing platform:
And that completed the New River Walk, over four days / two weekends, from Ware in Hertfordshire to New River Head, Clerkenwell.
It was a fascinating journey, and whilst the route has been straightened at a number of points and does not fully trace the original early 17th century route, it did leave me with considerable admiration for those in the early 17th century who surveyed and built the route, following the contours of the land so it would only fall by roughly 20 feet along the entire route ( 5.5m in total or 5 inches per mile). This enabled the water to flow naturally without the need for any pumping.
You can find my posts covering the first two stages of the walk at the following links:
In the following panorama from the viewing platform at New River Head, I have labeled some of the key features. On the right are the engine and pump house which will soon become the new Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, a wonderful new use for these historic buildings.
David Fletcher creates remarkable 3D photogrammetry captures of heritage sites and has one for the historic buildings at New River Head. Hopefully this will work as I have embedded the model in the post (if you do not see this in the e-mail, click here for the post on the website).
You can walk through the site, both inside and out to see this remarkable, historic site in detail:
Before heading to St Saviour’s Dock, a quick thank you for ordering tickets for this year’s walks. At the time of writing, the Barbican walks and Wapping walks are sold out. Many of the Bankside dates have sold out, but there are some tickets remaining on later dates, and there are a few on the Southbank walks.
St Saviour’s Dock is an inlet from the Thames in Bermondsey, just to the east of Tower Bridge on the south bank of the river. We can look across the river near Hermitage Moorings on the north bank, and see St Saviour’s Dock just to the left of Butlers Wharf.
Cross over to the south bank of the river, and on approaching the dock, there is a walkway spanning the entrance:
View from the footbridge across to the north bank of the river, at low tide, with thick mud across the foreshore:
Looking along St Saviour’s Dock – a carpet of mud:
St Saviour’s Dock is a very old feature of this section of the river. Originally the mouth of the River Neckinger, although it is very hard to pin down exactly where the Neckinger ran with any certainty, and how much of the water course was a natural river.
There were many streams and ditches in this area of Bermondsey and much of the land was low lying marsh. Some of the ditches which may have once been part of the Neckinger can be seen on 18th century maps, which I will come to later in the post.
Looking south along St Saviour’s Dock, the bends in the dock give the impression of a natural feature. Early maps show the sides of the dock as relatively straight, so the curves we see today may have been the result of extending some of the warehouses that line the dock as an attempt to maximise warehouse space.
At the far end of the dock, it comes to an abrupt halt at “Dock Head” at the junction of Jamaica Road and Tooley Street.
It is impossible to know for sure as to the origins of St Saviour’s Dock. It appears to have been part of the lands of Bermondsey Abbey, and what was then a natural watercourse, had banks created on either side, and a mill built on one side of the dock by the abbey at some point around the 13th century.
Just to the east of St Saviour’s Dock is Mill Street, apparently named after a mill stream which ran along the route of the street and which powered the mill, which was used to grind corn for the abbey. Mill Street is on the other side of the warehouses that line the eastern side of the dock, so is very close and complicates the mapping of waterways in the area.
The land around St Savoiur’s Dock was fully developed between the 16th and start of the 19th centuries, as maps from the 17th and 18th centuries confirm.
The following is an extract from William Morgan’s map of London from 1682. St Saviour’s Dock is located just to the lower right of centre of the map:
Note that the name of the dock in the map is Savory’s Dock. This may be a simple corruption of the name, or it could have been a rather sarcastic description of the dock given that there was much pollution from the surrounding buildings, and Bermondsey’s growing industry, that ended up in the dock.
I like the depiction of a small boat in the dock. It looks too wide to be a waterman’s boat, and could have been a lighter that transported goods between boats moored in the river and the warehouses lining the dock.
By the time of Morgan’s map in the late 17th century, it appears that buildings were lining the majority of the dock, and streets had been built to the east.
If you click on the above map to enlarge, you can see that to the right of St Saviour’s Dock were a number of water channels, and that to the lower centre edge of the map, there are what appear to be two water channels either side of a road, with a name of “The Neckincher” along the street. presumably this name applies to the water channels, and is a version of the name Neckinger.
This is the problem with being sure as to the route of the Neckinger, and how much of the route was a natural feature, and how much were artificial channels and ditches used to perhaps provide water to the industries in the area, or to drain what was low lying, marshy land.
Seventy three years after Morgan’s map, a 1755 map has St Saviour’s Dock on the edge of the map, with the surrounding area looking much the same as in 1682:
It is interesting that the name Savory Dock was again used on this later map. This name does not appear to be used when reporting anything about the dock in newspapers. For example on the 10th of January 1730, the Kentish Weekly Post used the name Saviour in a report that “Last Sunday, a Man, well dressed, was found drowned in St Saviour’s Dock”.
I can find no newspaper reference to the Savory spelling of the dock’s name.
Newspaper’s do give us an idea of the type of businesses and properties that surrounded the dock in the years around the publication of the above map. For example, on the 11th of January 1762 there was a report of a fire in one of the buildings along the dock:
“Thursday morning a fire broke out in a granary belonging to Mess. Hemmock and Co. Corn Lightermen, at St. Saviour’s Dock, near Dock Head, which was consumed, together with 8 dwelling houses, and a great many warehouses, and other out-buildings; three other dwelling houses were greatly damaged. Mr Allport, a biscuit maker, and his family, ran into the street almost naked, not having time to save anything. It being low-water, it was with difficulty a whole tier of ships was preserved, as they lay upon the mud close to the Dock, and nothing parted them from the flames but a crane house, which took fire several times, but by the activity of the firemen was prevented from getting to a head. We hear no lives were lost.”
So in 1762, St Saviour’s Dock was surrounded by a granary, dwelling houses, and a great many warehouses, which does align with the view presented in the above maps. As well as the granary, there are also mentions of a “Mr John Robinson’s Rope Warehouse” in the dock in the mid 18th century.
The following map is dated 1813 and includes the names of the wharfs along the dock. Only two also have the names of products stored, with a granary at lower left of the dock and a lime yard at upper right.
What is interesting about the above map is the area to the left (east) of St Saviour’s Dock.
On this map there are a number of streams / ditches shown, along with bridges over these. I have highlighted the waterways with arrows.
The area between the waterway on the left and St Saviour’s Dock is the area that would become known as Jacob’s Island (after Jacob Street running through the centre). It was Charles Dickens who would bring some notoriety to this small patch of Bermondsey when he apparently located Fagins den and Bill Sykes death in Jacob’s Island in his novel, Oliver Twist.
The above map does confirm that the area was still a place of ditches and streams in the early 19th century, all possibly once part of the Neckinger, but would disappear during the rest of the 19th century as new warehouses and roads were built. The ditches do not appear to have any connection to St Saviour’s Dock or the River Thames, so must have just held stagnant water.
Underneath the name St Saviour’s Dock is the name “Southwark” rather than Bermondsey. The above print is really of the dock just to the north west of Southwark Cathedral, where the replica of the Golden Hind is now located.
Southwark Cathedral was originally the church of St Mary Overie. The church was renamed St Saviour’s at some point around the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539, and this name would remain in place until 1905 when it became Southwark Cathedral.
The small dock just to the north west of Southwark Cathedral was originaly Mary Overie Dock, but with the renaming of the cathedral, the dock took on the name of St Saviour’s Dock and is shown with this name in Rocque’s map of London from 1746, and in this 1811 print which shows the church of St Saviour (Southwark Cathedral) at lower centre, and St Saviour’s Dock to upper left.
The 1895 OS map continues to show the Southwark dock as St Saviour’s Dock.
So there were two St Saviour’s Docks, and we need to be careful with references to the name. Today the Southwark dock is the location of the Golden Hind replica, and the address on the Golden Hinde’s website is back to the original name of St Mary Overie Dock.
The 1895 Ordnance Survey map of the Bermondsey St Saviour’s Dock shows that the dock was lined with warehouses, wharfs and factories, including a flour mill, coal wharf, packing case factory and lime wharf – the typical mix of industries that you would find along any stretch of the industrial Thames in the 19th century.
As with so much of the London docks, St Saviour’s Dock went into decline after the war. Warehouses located down a narrow inlet just were not suitable for the size and type of ships, and containerisation would kill off any hope of using warehouses such as those found in the dock.
St Saviour’s Dock remained as an open inlet to the Thames, but the buildings along the edge of the dock started a path to dereliction.
St Saviour’s Dock has been used in a number of films. One of these in the years before the buildings were transformed is Derek Jarman’s 1978 film Jubilee.
Jarman lived for a time in Butler’s Wharf, between the dock and Tower Bridge, and the film, which is still available as a DVD, whilst a typical Jarman film and very much of its time, is good to watch for one interpretation of punk and the late 1970s, but also for some London location spotting.
In the following clip, the characters Bod, Mad and Chaos are about to throw a body over the side of St Saviour’s Wharf, to the mud below, with the empty warehouses in the background:
From the 1980s onwards, the majority of the wharfs lining St Saviour’s Dock would be converted to apartments and offices. A walk along the side streets that follow the dock to the east and west reveals how many have survived.
Starting in Mill Street which runs along the eastern side of the dock, and to the north east corner is New Concordia Wharf:
New Concordia Wharf was originally built in 1882 as St. Saviour’s Flour Mill, however after one of the fires that seemed to be a frequent risk to the wharfs along the river, it was rebuilt between 1894 and 1898.
St. Saviour’s Flour Mill / New Concordia Wharf included a flour / corn mill, continuing a tradition of milling flour that goes back to the original mill built on the banks of the dock by Bermondsey Abbey in the 13th century.
Rather than being powered by water, the mill was steam powered, and the water tank and chimney remain, although the water tank has been somewhat hidden by changes to the roof of the building.
The chimney was truncated in 1979, and now looks rather ungainly with what appears to be a concrete slab on the top of the chimney, but is still an unusual sight on the end of a warehouse.
Conversion of New Concordia Wharf to apartments was carried out between 1982 and 1983 and was one of the first examples of the warehouse conversions that would become the standard for the type of building along the Thames.
We then come to Grade II listed St. Saviour’s Wharf:
St. Saviour’s Wharf was built in 1868, and was for sale by auction in 1870. The advert for the auction provides some details of this 1868 building:
“Saint Saviour’s Sufferance Wharf, together with the modern pile of warehouses in MillStreet erected in 1868 in the most substantial manner under the superintendence of an eminent architect and so arranged as to fulfil all the requirements of the Metropolitan Buildings Act and of the Fire Insurance Companies. The premises comprise three double warehouses each with five floors and basement, having a frontage of 117 feet next Mill-street.
The various floors are carried on columns from basement to roof, and are strongly timbered. The ground floor is asphalted. The party walls are 2 feet 3 thick, and there is no communication between the three warehouses, except on the basement.
There are two staircases to each warehouse, and loophole doors and windows on each floor fronting the land and waterside.
The floors of two of the warehouses are divided by brick walls 2 feet 3 thick, communicating by chambers, enclosed by wrought iron folding double doors.”
The details of the construction of the buildings were important for potential buyers. Not just to show the strength of the building, but also that the building was designed to limit the spread of fire.
Fires in warehouses were a continual risk. Buildings on top of each other, all crammed with highly combustible goods resulted in frequent fires, and the newspapers almost always had reports of fires in warehouses along the Thames (for example, see my post on the “The Great Fire at London Bridge”).
No idea what the purchaser of St Saviour’s Wharf paid for the buildings, however today, a 2 bedroom apartment is for sale at £1.2 million.
The view along the southern end of Mill Street, with more wharfs and warehouses. Unity Wharf nearest.
Unity Wharf is Grade II listed and is now mainly office / commercial space. In the 1953 publications “London Wharves and Docks”, Unity Wharf is listed holding Canned and Cased Goods, Bagged produce and General.
To the side of Unity Wharf is the entrance shown in the following photo:
It was gated half way along on my visit, but appears to be one off, if not the only passage through the wharfs to the side of St Saviour’s Dock.
In the 1895 Ordnance Survey Map, the passage is shown, and marked as “Free Landing Way”, which I assume meant that it could be used by anyone to land something by boat in St Saviour’s Dock, and the passage provided a route between water and Mill Street. I would have loved to have got to the end of the passage and looked over the edge into the dock.
At the end of Mill Street, we reach the junction of Jamaica Road and Tooley Street. In the following photo, the steps to the left of the red bins lead up to the wall at the very end of St Saviour’s Dock – the point labeled Dock Head in the 17th and 18th century maps earlier in the post.
Climb the steps, look over the wall, and we can look down on St Saviour’s Wharf:
Towards the northern end of the dock where it meets the River Thames and is spanned by the footbridge:
We can now walk along Shad Thames, the street that runs along the wharfs on the western edge of the dock.
The buildings have a couple of footbridges between the wharfs on the right and additional warehouse space on the left. These were used to transport goods between buildings without having to travel up and down floors and across the street, although looking closely at one of the bridges, I doubt these are original, they look either very good restorations or new copies of what would have spanned the street.
The following photo shows the “B” warehouse of St Andrew’s Wharf:
This building dates from 1850 and is Grade II listed, but as can be seen by the changes in brickwork, it has been partially rebuilt a number of times, most recently when it was converted for residential use.
We then come to the point in Shad Thames where it leaves the wharfs that line St Saviour’s Dock, and turns west to head towards Tower Bridge.
At this corner point is the much rebuilt and restored Butler’s Wharf:
And that brings me to the end of a look at St Saviour’s Dock, and the wharfs and warehouses that line this ancient inlet from the River Thames.
Although the buildings have been converted to residential and commercial, they do still provide a really good impression of what the dock would have looked like from the late 19th century onwards.
The thing that is missing is noise and activity. Walking the area today and it is quiet. No lighters in the dock, no goods being loaded and unloaded and very few people walking the streets.
The dock itself is always thick with mud, and I have never seen anyone searching the dock or foreshore. A good thing as it looks highly dangerous, but intriguing to imagine what is buried beneath the mud given the centuries of use of St Saviour’s Dock.
I hope you find something of interest, and I plan to add additional dates, so please check again later if you do not find a suitable free date.
Wapping – A Seething Mass of Misery
Wapping – A Seething Mass of Misery. So wrote Francis Wey in the 1850s in his book, “A Frenchman Sees the English in the Fifties”.
As London’s docks expanded to the east, Wapping developed to serve the docks and the river, and this expansion resulted in living conditions that would lead to Francis Wey’s description.
Wapping was different to the rest of east London as it developed a nautical subculture, one that existed to serve and exploit sailors arriving on the ships that would moor on the river, and the docks and wharves that lined the river.
This walk will discover the history of Wapping, and will run from near Tower Hill underground station, along Wapping High Street and Wapping Wall, across the old Ratcliff Highway to Shadwell Overground and DLR stations.
We will explore the development of the docks, the ancient gateways between land and river that are the Thames stairs, lost and surviving pubs, the history of the River Police, a sailor’s experience of Wapping, warehouses, crime and punishment, murders and a burial at a crossroads.
We will also meet some of the people who lived, worked and passed through Wapping, such as the Purlmen who worked on the river, and John Morrison, a ship’s boy on a collier, who in 1832 almost froze to death whilst waiting to row his master back to his ship after a night in Wapping’s pubs.
The walk will use some of my father’s photos to show the area post-war, and will look at how Wapping has developed to become the place we see today, and should be considerably more enjoyable than Francis Wey’s description.
The walk is about 2.5 miles and will take between two and a quarter, and two and a half hours.
The following dates for my tour of Wapping are available to book on Eventbrite. Click on any of the dates to go to the site where they can be booked.
Bankside to Pickle Herring Street – History between the Bridges
This walk explores the remarkable history of Bankside and Southwark between Blackfriars and Tower Bridges.
Looking at how the river bank along the River Thames has developed, and using my father’s post-war photos to show just how much the area has changed, and what was here when this was a working part of the river.
From the sites of Roman discoveries to recent development of old wharfs and warehouses, the walk will explore pubs, theatres, Thames stairs, lost streets, the impact of electricity generation, fires, alleys, and the people who lived and worked along the river.
The walk will also look at how being opposite the City of London led Bankside and Southwark on a unique path through history.
Lasting around two and a quarter hours, the walk will start near Blackfriars Bridge and end at Tower Bridge.
The following dates for my tour of Bankside are available to book on Eventbrite. Click on any of the dates to go to the site where they can be book.
On the evening of the 29th December 1940, one of the most devastating raids on London created fires that destroyed much of the area north of St Paul’s Cathedral and between London Wall and Old Street.
The raid destroyed a network of streets that had covered this area of Cripplegate for centuries. Lives, workplaces, homes and buildings were lost. Well-known names such as Shakespeare and Cromwell and their connection with the Barbican and Cripplegate will be discovered, as well as those lost to history such as the woman who sold milk from a half house, and that artisan dining is not a recent invention.
Out of the wartime destruction, a new London Wall emerged, along with the Barbican and Golden Lane estates that would dominate post-war reconstruction. Destruction of buildings would also reveal structures that had been hidden for many years.
On this walk, we will start at London Wall, and walk through the Barbican and Golden Lane estates, discovering the streets, buildings and people that have been lost and what can still be found. We will explore post-war reconstruction, and look at the significant estates that now dominate the area.
Lasting around two hours, by the end of the walk, we will have walked through 2,000 years of this unique area of London, the streets of today, and the streets lost to history.
The following dates for my tour of the Barbican are available to book on Eventbrite. Click on any of the dates to go to the site where they can be book.
The South Bank – Marsh, Industry, Culture and the Festival of Britain
This walk will discover the story of the Festival of Britain, the main South Bank site, and how a festival which was meant to deliver a post war “tonic for the nation” created a futuristic view of a united country, and how the people of the country were rooted in the land and seas.
We will also discover the history of the South Bank of the Thames, from Westminster to Blackfriars Bridges, today one of London’s major tourist destinations, and with the Royal Festival Hall and National Theatre, also a significant cultural centre.
Along the South Bank we will discover a story of the tidal river, marsh, a Roman boat, pleasure gardens, industry, housing and crime. The South Bank has been the centre of governance for London, and the area is an example of how wartime plans for the redevelopment of London transformed what was a derelict and neglected place.
Lasting around 2 hours, the walk will start by Waterloo Station and end a short distance from Blackfriars Bridge.
At the end of the walk, we will have covered 2,000 years of history, and walked from a causeway running alongside a tidal marsh, to the South Bank we see today.
The following dates for my tour of the Southbank are available to book on Eventbrite. Click on any of the dates to go to the site where they can be book.
Soho Square can be found near the junction of Charing Cross Road and Oxford Street. A busy square, with lots of traffic, parking and occasionally it is used as a film set.
The centre of Soho Square is a large open space, and the square is surrounded by a considerable mix of architectural styles, reflecting the number of times that buildings have been demolished and rebuilt since the square was originally laid out, and the range of individuals. organisations and companies that have made the square their home.
Soho Square was part of London’s northwards expansion and the first houses on the square were originally built around 1670.
The following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map of London shows Soho Square, with Oxford Street to the north, but still much open space further north, which would be developed during the second half of the 18th century.
Soho Square, as well as many of the surrounding streets, was built on open space known as Kemp’s Field or Soho Fields.
The site of the square was leased to a bricklayer by the name of Richard Frith, who started construction of the first houses, with the first leases of these houses dating to the 1670s and 1680s.
The square was originally called King’s Square, presumably after Charles II, who was on the throne during the early years of the square’s construction. It would keep this name until the first decades of the 18th century, when it would gradually become known as Soho Square, with formal recognition of the new name of the square on maps such as Rocque’s in 1746.
Today, only a couple of the original houses remain, although in a much modified state.
Soho Square has seen continual waves of development, and a walk around the square today reveals a large range of building size and architectural type. Some buildings are on the original narrow plot, larger buildings have incorporated several adjoining plots of land.
On a weekday, the square is a hive of activity. There is a considerable amount of traffic through the square, parking along both sides of the road around the square, and on the day of my visit, filming had taken over one side of the square.
The open space in the centre of the square was separate from all this activity, and provided a space to look at the buildings surrounding the square before being blocked by leaf growth on the trees.
The following photo is looking to the east, with the tower block of Centre Point in the background.
The brick tower in the background is part of St Patrick’s Catholic Church. During the first years of the square, there were a number of large houses leading back from the square, one of these was Carlisle House, which was built by the Earl of Carlisle around 1690.
Carlisle House was leased by Father Arthur O’Leary, a Franciscan Friar, who managed to raise sufficient financial support from a number of wealthy Catholic families.
The house was converted so that it could be used as a place of worship, and was consecrated on the 29th of September 1792. It was one of the first Catholic places of worship opened after the Catholic Relief Acts of 1778 and 1791, which removed many of the restrictions placed on the Catholic faith during the reformation.
The current church was built on the site of Carlisle House between 1891 and 1893.
In the centre of the square is a small wooden building:
The wooden building is Grade II listed, and is described by English Heritage as a “Garden arbour/tool shed”. It was built around 1925 for the Charing Cross Electricity Company to provide access to an electricity sub-station below ground. It did not serve this purpose for too long as the underground space would become an air raid shelter during the Second World War.
The electricity substation was not the first utility to be built in Soho Square.
When the first houses in the square were built, there was competition from the water companies that served London to provide water. One of these companies was the New River Company who supplied water from their reservoirs at north Clerkenwell.
Whilst the supply worked to the City, Soho was on higher ground, and this small difference in height between the reservoir and Soho Square, along with the haphazard way in which the water distribution system had grown, resulted in a poor, low pressure supply to the new houses of Soho Square.
Sir Christopher Wren was asked to help with understanding the problems of distributing water to Soho Square and the developing area of the West End, however Wren looked at the whole system and recommended that the problems could only be addressed by effectively replacing the entire system with a new, integrated design.
The New River Company also commissioned John Lowthorp (a clergyman, who was also a member of the Royal Society) to look at the distribution problems,
Lowthorpe established that it was not water supply problems to New River Head (indeed the New River supplied enough water for the whole of London), as with Wren, Lowthorpe identified the distribution network and the organisation of the company.
This would only be fixed over a number of years, one of the short term fixes was the construction of a cistern in Soho Square to store water from the New River Company’s reservoirs for onward distribution.
The north east corner of the square:
The north west corner of the square:
The above two photos show the range of different buildings around the square, and the changes in building height and roof line.
The view is looking north, and shows that in the first decades of the 18th century, Soho Square was really on the northern edge of the built city. The name of the square at the top of the print uses the original name of King’s Square, as well as the future name of Soho Square.
The hills in the distance are those of Hampstead and Highgate, and the street running north from the square crosses Tiburn Road.
This would later be renamed Oxford Street, and was named Tiburn Road as it led to the Tiburn or Tyburn tree or gallows at the western end of Oxford Street, at the junction of Oxford Street with Edgware Road and Bayswater Road.
The above map uses the spelling of Tiburn, rather than the more common Tyburn. Rocque also uses the Tiburn spelling for the street and the gallows.
By the time of the above print, the centre of the square had been laid out as formal gardens.
A statue can just be seen in the centre of the above print. I have enlarged this below:
The statue is of Charles II, above a fountain with a small surrounding pond.
Old and New London included a description of the statue and fountain:
“In the centre was a fountain with four streams. In the middle of the basin was the statue of Charles II, in armour, on a pedestal, enriched with fruit and flowers; on the four sides of the base were figures representing the four chief rivers of the kingdom—Thames, Severn, Tyne, and Humber; on the south side were figures of an old man and a young virgin, with a stream ascending; on the west lay the figure of a naked virgin (only nets wrapped about her) reposing on a fish, out of whose mouth flowed a stream of water; on the north, an old man recumbent on a coal-bed, and an urn in his hand whence issues a stream of water; on the east rested a very aged man, with water running from a vase, and his right hand laid upon a shell.”
Old and New London also comments that “the statue is now so mutilated and disfigured, and the inscription quite effaced”. There is also a comment that the statue could be the Duke of Monmouth (who we will come to later), rather than Charles II, however the consensus seems to be that it is the king rather than duke.
The statue was removed around the time that Old and New London was published. An article in the Illustrated London News on the 26th February 1938, records what happened to the statue, and its eventual restoration to the square:
“The statue of Charles II, by Caius Gabriel Cibber, the father of Colley Cibber, Poet Laureate, actor and dramatist, has been restored to Soho Square after an absence of sixty-two years. It was placed in the Square, then called King’s Square, during Charles II’s reign and surrounded a fountain bearing the emblematical figures of the Thames, Severn, Tyne and Humber.
In 1876 it was in such a bad condition that it was taken down and removed to Mr Goodall’s residence at Grims Dyke, Harrow Weald. There it was re-erected in the middle of a large pond, where it remained during the subsequent tenure of Sir. W.S. Gilbert. When Lady Gilbert died in 1936 she bequeathed the statue to the Soho Square Gardens Committee, who had it skilfully restored and have placed it on the north side of the Gardens.”
So although Charles II is no longer on his high pedestal, and the fountain and pond have long gone, he is back in Soho Square:
There is a small plaque near the northern entrance to the central garden that records an event in recent history.
Two trees can be seen in the following photo, with a small concrete block between them:
The plaque records that one of the trees (I assume the one on the right) was planted to replace a tree lost during the Great Storm over the night of the 16th to 17th October 1987:
On the north west side of the square, the French Protestant church glows red and orange in the low sun of an early spring day. The church was built in 1891 on the land released when two of the original houses on the square were demolished.
The following photo shows the rather wonderful, number 3 Soho Square:
The building is very narrow compared to many of the other buildings on the street, and although it is the third building on the site, the width of the building is because it is on the same plot of land as the original house when the square was first built.
The first house was built in 1684, it was rebuilt in 1735, which in turn was demolished for the current building which dates from 1902. The mix of the concave upper floors with the large bay windows on floors one and two, along with subtle decoration make number 3 one of the more interesting of the 20th century buildings on Soho Square.
To the right of number 3, is a single building that now occupies the space of numbers 4 to 6, the corner brick building shown in the following photo:
The building was originally constructed as a warehouse in 1804 by John Trotter, a contractor for army supplies.
With the end of the Napoleonic Wars, just eleven years after the warehouse was completed, John Trotter converted the warehouse into the Soho Bazaar.
The Soho Bazaar was a market place for a wide range of goods, and the bazaar would last for much of the 19th century. A newspaper report from the later years of the bazaar provides a good description of what could be found inside, and also why the bazaar was under pressure from the shops opening on nearby Oxford Street, and across the city. Published on the 17th of October, 1885:
“It is a long time since I walked round the Soho Bazaar, for the pretty stalls there have been greatly superseded by the many fancy shops that are now everywhere in London. but the old place, though somewhat changed in character, is the depot for many specialties which of themselves would not pay if a whole shop had to be hired for their sale.
All sorts and kinds of fancy work, of contrivances for the comfort of invalids, and such like inventions are to be seen, and, moreover, there is a large register office for domestic servants and convenience for interviews with them, in connection with the bazaar, and one great recommendation of it to me is that all the stall holders are women, not flighty girls, and they are attentive and pleasant to inquirers or purchasers of their own sex, and not on the look out for a possible flirtation, which is the great drawback to most bazaars.
I went there the other day to see myself the ladies work stall, and its appearance is most encouraging, for the work I saw was well executed, attractive, and useful. Every lady who desires to sell her work there is expected to pay a fee of a guinea a year for expenses.”
The stalls in the bazaar seem to have sold all manner of homemade products, and there was also a kindergarten, where babies were given special rugs to play / crawl on. The rugs had cutout animals and other figures to attract attention.
Compare the above print with my 2022 photo of the building, and although the ground floor has been significantly remodeled, the upper floors are the same, after 200 years.
On the south side of the square is the Hospital for Women, which combined / rebuilt houses already on the site:
At the very top of the left building of the hospital, is the date “Founded 1842”. This refers to when the hospital was originally founded in Red Lion Square as the Hospital for the Diseases of Women, before moving to Soho Square in 1852.
Records in the National Archives state that “The Hospital was closed in 1939 on the outbreak of war, and a First Aid Post was opened in the Outpatients Department by Westminster City Council”, and that in 1948, the hospital “was amalgamated with St. Mary’s Hospital and The Hospital for Women became part of The Middlesex Hospital Group”.
The first building on the site of the Hospital for Women, was one of the earliest buildings to face onto Soho Square.
Monmouth House was built for the Duke of Monmouth, however he seems to have spent very little time there.
After Charles II’s death, Monmouth led a rebellion with the aim of taking the throne. He was defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor on the 6th of July 1685. After capture, Monmouth was executed on Tower Hill on the 15th of July 1685.
The house was sold after Monmouth’s death, converted to auction rooms in 1717, and demolished in 1773.
The house on the south east corner of Soho Square, at the junction with Greek Street, is the House of Charity / House of St Barnabas.
On the day of my visit, it was being used as a film set:
Despite appearances, the building is not one of the original houses on the square. The house we see today was completed in 1747 after the original house on the site was demolished.
The building was used by one of the organisations that would eventually become the GLC. In 1811, the Westminster Commissioners of Sewers occupied the building, then the Metropolitan Board of Works who stayed on Soho Square until their move to Spring Gardens, before moving to County Hall on the South Bank as the London County Council.
When the Metropolitan Board of Works moved out, it was sold to the House of Charity, which had been established in 1846 for the relief of the destitute and the homeless poor in London.
Now the House of St Barnabas, which works to get people into secure, paid employment, through training and support. The interior of the building still has many of the original features, and is why the building is attractive as a film set.
To the west of the square, Sutton Row provides a route to Charing Cross Road, and St Patrick’s Catholic Church is on the right:
On the left is Grade II listed, number 21 Soho Square, an 1838 / 1840 rebuild of the original house on the site, which, during the late 18th century had, as Old and New London tactfully described, been a “place of fashionable dissipation to which only the titled and wealthy classes had the privilege of admission”, basically a high-class brothel.
After being rebuilt, the building was taken on by Crosse & Blackwell, and numerous 19th century adverts give Soho Square as the address for Crosse & Blackwell – manufacturers of Pickles, Sauces & Jams etc.
There are three interesting buildings in the north-east corner of Soho Square. The building on the right in the photo below is one of the original houses on the square. Although considerably modified, it does give an indication on what the terrace houses would have looked like as the square was completed.
The centre house has a blue plaque, recording that Mary Seacole lived in the house:
Mary Seacole was a Jamaican nurse who learnt many of the local techniques for practicing medicine. She traveled widely, and was involved with the treatment of people suffering from cholera outbreaks in Jamaica and Panama.
In 1853 she was responsible for nursing services for the British Army in Jamaica, however she had heard about the suffering of soldiers in the Crimean War, and asked that she be sent to the Crimea to work as an army nurse.
This request was not approved, so she funded her own trip to Crimea where she set up the “British Hotel” to provide a place of rest and treatment for injured and sick soldiers. This was the same war where Florence Nightingale was also working, but Mary’s British Hotel was closer to the front.
After the end of the Crimean War she returned to Britain, however she had very little money left, having funded the trip to the Crimea, and in 1856 she was declared bankrupt, as the Globe on the 7th November 1856 reported:
“The bankrupts, Mrs Mary Seacole and Thomas Day the younger, are described as of Tavistock-street, Covent-garden, and Ratcliff-terrace, provision merchants, and formerly of Balaklava and Spring Hill, front of Sebastopol. Mrs. Seacole is a lady of colour, and has been honoured with four government medals for her kindness to British soldiery. She was present in person, and attracted much attention, the gaily coloured decorations on her breast being in perfect harmony with the rest of her attire.”
Whilst in London, she wrote and published her biography, and a review sums up how she was viewed:
“The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands has just been published by Mr James Blackwood of Paternoster Row. Of Mrs Seacole, Dr. Russell says in a brief preface ‘If singleness of heart, true charity and Christian works; if trials and sufferings, dangers and perils, encountered boldly by a helpless woman on her errand of mercy in the camp and battlefield, can excite sympathy and move curiosity, Mary Seacole will have many friends and many readers’. Mrs Seacole’s autobiography is interesting, includes many strange episodes, and, we doubt not, will obtain numerous readers.”
Proceeds from the book, along with a fund raised by the Prince of Wales provided Mary with sufficient funding to live in comfort for the rest of her life. She died in London in 1881, and newspaper announcements of her death started with the headline “DEATH OF A DISTINQUISHED NURSE”.
Over the following decades, her name disappeared, with Florence Nightingale being more associated with the Crimean War.
A group of nurses from the Caribbean visited Mary’s grave at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green, and started to campaign for greater recognition for her. This was supported by the local MP to Kensal Green and in 2016, a statue was unveiled in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital on the south bank of the Thames just to the west of Westminster Bridge.
The large disk behind the statue of Mary is an impression taken from the ground in the Crimea where Mary Seacole worked to help soldiers during the Crimean War.
I cannot find out exactly when Mary Seacole lived in Soho Square. Newspaper reports of her life after she returned from the war mention a number of different addresses in London so she seems to have moved around.
Very little of the original Soho Square remains, the statue of Charles II, and a couple of the houses, although all have been repaired and modified, but the square does show how London streets have changed and adapted to different uses over hundreds of years, and how much there is to find in a London square.
A couple of months ago, I wrote the first post of a series in which I hope I will track down the roughly 170 City of London plaques. The plaques tell a small part of the City’s long history, however due to the limited size of the plaque, they often just provide a name, leaving the viewer to wonder what is actually being commemorated.
For today’s post, I take a look at another five, some of which have plenty of information, others need some digging.
City of London plaques record the churches, Guild and Livery Company Halls, infrastructure, key events and people that have contributed to the City’s history. The majority of people are men, there are very few plaques to women, so to start this week’s wander through the City of London, let me start with:
Mary Harris Smith FCA – The Worlds First Female Chartered Accountant
Walk north along Queen Victoria Street, and just before the junction with Poultry and the Bank, you will find number 1 Queen Victoria Street. Walk to the right of this building, along Bucklersbury, and on the side you will see one of the most recent of the City of London plaques. Arrowed in the following photo, as in the shade on a bright day:
This plaque is less than two years old, and was installed on the building in September 2020. It records Mary Harris Smith, the world’s first female Chartered Accountant:
The story of Mary Harris Smith is the story of many women who were struggling to gain recognition in male dominated professions.
Mary Harris Smith had been an accountant for many years, firstly working for a City firm before setting up her own practice in Queen Victoria Street in 1887.
Despite working as an accountant, she was repeatedly refused admission to the accountants professional body, the Institute of Chartered Accountants, either through the route of recognition of her years of work, or through taking the exams set by the Institute.
Whilst there was some support for her admission, the Institute’s solicitor advised the applications committee that the charter only used the male terms of he, him etc. to refer to members, and there was no support to change the charter.
Mary Harris Smith’s persistence eventually worked. She had been seeking the support of other City professionals, members of the Institute and MPs, and in 1919 she was finally admitted to her first professional body, the Incorporated Society of Accountants and Auditors.
The Journal and Express on the 6th of December 1919 recorded the event:
“AFTER 31 YEARS – At a recent meeting of the Council of the Incorporated Society of Accountants and Auditors it was resolved to admit Miss Mary Harris Smith to the Honorary Membership of the Society. Miss Harris Smith has been in public practice in the City of London since the date of the Society’s incorporation and first made application for admission to membership in the year 1886. After 31 years of waiting Miss Harris Smith has seen removed the last obstacle to the admission of women to the Society, and we think there will be general agreement in the profession with the compliment the Council have paid Miss Harris Smith by electing her to Honorary membership”.
Although now a member, the above article refers to her admission as being the “compliment the Council have paid Miss Harris Smith” rather then her right to membership through her ability and years of experience.
A year later, in 1920, she was admitted to the Institute of Chartered Accountants – the event which is commemorated on the plaque.
The Vote newspaper, (subtitled the Organ of the Women’s Freedom League) had been running a series of articles on women in the professions and on the 8th of February 1924 included an article on Women Accountants which featured Mary Harris Smith, who had been elected as a Fellow.
The article also mentions Ethel Watts, who was the first women to pass the Institute of Chartered Accountants exams and gain the ACA qualification:
“The Institute of Chartered Accountants has at present two women members. One of these, Miss Harris Smith, admitted a Fellow of the Institute in May, 1920, was the first woman accountant in public practice before the examination system was started, and has been engaged on highly skilled work for over 30 years.
The other, Miss Ethel Watts, B.A. passed her final examination early this year, and is the first woman to write ‘A.C.A.’ after her name. She served her articles with a Manchester firm, but took her Honours degree at London University. During the war, she became an administrative assistant at the Ministry of Food, and was at one time the private secretary to the Director of Oils and Fats in the Ministry.
She had intended to study law, but her work at the Ministry gave her an interest in business, so she turned to accountancy. In addition to these members, there are 30 women training under articles.”
No idea if there is a plaque to Ethel Watts in Manchester. If not, there should be.
Mary Harris Smith had waited a long time for professional recognition, she was 76 when finally becoming a member. Ill heath forced her to give up work in the late 1920s and she died in 1934.
Mary Harris Smith photographed around the time of her membership of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in 1920:
I can think of only two or three City of London plaques to women, and Mary Harris Smith is a very recent addition – hopefully the first of many more to come.
The next plaque is to one of the many men commemorated across the City:
William Shakespeare and the Mountjoy Family.
If you start at the roundabout with the Museum of London in the Centre, and walk a short distance along London Wall, you will come to a small garden which is the site of the church of St Olave, a church that was destroyed in 1666 by the Great Fire.
On one of the low walls in the seating area, there is another of the City of London plaques, highlighted by the arrow:
The plaque records that “William Shakespeare had lodgings near here in 1604, at the house of Christopher and Mary Mountjoy“:
The discovery that William Shakespeare lived for a time at or near London Wall was made in the first decade of the 20th century. A Dr. Charles William Wallace who was Associate Professor of English Language and Literature at the University of Nebraska, had, along with his wife, spent their holidays in records offices searching for references to Shakespeare.
They found one set of documents from a legal case dating from May and June 1612, where Shakespeare had been a witness, and the documents included a very rare signature of Shakespeare.
The Illustrated London News on the 16th of February 1910 carried an article on the discovery, which included the core of the legal case:
“Christopher Montjoy or Mountjoy, a Huguenot refugee, living in Silver Street, with a wife and only child, Mary, carried on there the business of a tiremaker. The occupation would seem to have combined the making of Ladies head-dresses with the work of milliner.
In 1598 Mountjoy took as apprentice one Stephen Bellott, whose mother, a woman of Huguenot family, had married as a second husband an Englishman named Humphrey Fludd. Young Stephen Bellott proved an apt workman, and was much liked by his master and his master’s family.
The daughter, Mary Mountjoy, was attracted by her father’s apprentice, and her parents approved a marriage between the couple. But Stephen Bellott was no ardent wooer, and some pressure had to be brought to bear on him to ‘effect’ a match.
According to the evidence, ‘one Mr. Shakespeare laye in the house’ of the Mountjoy’s when their daughter’s engagement was under discussion. The statement suggests that Shakespeare lodged at the time with the Mountjoy’s, or, at any rate, that he was then staying there. Both parents appealed to Mr. Shakespeare to use his persuasions with the young man.
According to Shakespeare’s evidence, Mrs Mountjoy ‘did sollicitt and entreat’ him ‘to move and perswade’ Stephen Bellott to marry her daughter, and ‘ accordingly he did move and perswade’ him thereunto.
The young man regarded the proposal in a sternly practical light. He asserts that he yielded on specific conditions, namely that the young lady should receive from her father the sum of fifty pounds on her marriage, and the sum of two hundred pounds on her father’s death, together with ‘certaine house-hold stuff’ of substantial value.”
The marriage of Mary and Stephen took place on the 19th of November 1604 in St Olave’s, Silver Street, the site of the plaque.
Mrs Mountjoy died in 1606, and the relationship between Stephen Bellott and his father-in-law became very strained. He claimed that the “household stuff” that Mountjoy had given his daughter was old and worthless, and Mountjoy then denied he had ever made the promises to Bellott.
Bellott then took the case to court, trying to compel his father-in-law to comply with the terms of the alleged contract, and it was because of this that Shakespeare was a witness for the plaintiff.
In his signed deposition, Shakespeare stated that he had known both Mountjoy and Bellott for ten years, that Bellott did “well and honestly behave himself”, and that Mountjoy had promised a “marriage-portion” with his daughter, but he could not remember the amount.
The documents found by Dr. Wallace in the National Archives do not record the outcome of the case, and it seems to have been refered to another authority for judgement.
Dr. Wallace assumed that Shakespeare had lived with the Mountjoy’s from 1598 to 1604, which was the period of Bellott’s apprenticeship, although there is no evidence to confirm this. Dr. Wallace also made a number of claims, including that Shakespeare used the name Mountjoy as the French herald in Henry V from the name of the family he had been living with. Again, there is no evidence to confirm this.
Mountjoy’s house was on the corner of Silver Street and Monkwell Street – two streets that disappeared during the rebuilding of the area following the bombing of the last war. The following map is from Roque’s 1746 map of London, and I have marked the location of the house with a red circle. Just below the red circle is St Olave’s cemetery, the site of the garden we can see today.
The location today of Mountjoy’s house is just slightly north of the location of the plaque, and is probably under the current route of the dual carriageway of London Wall.
A pub, the Coopers Arms was later built on the site of the house and in 1931 it was reported that the Coopers Arms had an old inscription commemorating Shakespeare’s stay.
The Coopers Arms – Silver Street to the right, Monkwell Street disappearing to the left. Strange to think that London Wall now runs through this scene.
Two plaques covering people who have lived or worked in the City. Now for one of the staple of City of London plaques – one of the City’s Guilds or Companies.
Not far from the Shakespear / Mountjoy plaque is one to mark the site of Curriers’ Hall. Walk a short distance east along London Wall, up Wood Street, and a short distance along is a pedestrianised walkway to the east, which has some remnants of the City Wall alongside.
Opposite the wall is the goods entrance to one of the new buildings that cover the area, and to the right of the entrance is a City plaque:
The plaque marks the nearby sites of Curriers’ Hall between 1583 and 1940:
A Currier was a leather worker. Currying leather was the process by which tanned skins were stretched and shaved into a fine finish to produce leather which was suitable for the production of leather goods, such as shoes.
The coat of arms of the Curriers’ shows arms rising at the top, with hands holding the tool of the Currier, the shaving knife which was scrapped across a skin, gradually reducing the thickness and producing a smooth finish to the material. The tool is also shown on the shield.
Curriers were originally part of the Cordwainers’ Guild, but an ordnance of 1272 brought about the separation of the professions by requiring that they should have separate working regulations.
Full self governance by the Curriers was achieved through a 1415 ordinance, with an extension of their powers through an Act of 1516, and the grant of a Charter on the 30th of April 1606.
The grant of a Charter was rather late, and was given “by prescription” where a company that had existed for a long time was assumed to have been granted a charter, but which had been lost.
The last version of Curriers Hall was destroyed during the heavy bombing and fires that the area suffered in December 1940.
The Worshipful Company of Curriers still exist today. They do not have a hall, and use the halls of other City companies for their ceremonial events. As with other City companies, they do not have regulatory powers, and today support charitable activities in trades still involved in working leather, or where leather products are used, such as horse riding.
Another City Guild or Company that produced products that would have been used along with those of the Curriers is the:
Walk along Poultry, towards the Bank junction, and on the right is 1 Poultry. There is an access under the building just before reaching the Bank junction, called Bucklesbury Passage. Underneath the name sign for the passage is a plaque:
Stating “Site of the Loriners’ Trade 11th – 13th Centuries”:
I love the City of London plaques, however they are also rather frustrating. A casual passerby would have no idea what Loriners’ Trade means.
The Loriners were an old City Guild or Mistery, and were granted ordinances in 1260 / 1261 along with their rules of self government.
A Loriner is an example of how specific many of these skilled trades were, as a Loriner was a maker of bridle bits and other examples of metal work used for horses. The Loriner was also a maker of spurs, however spurs became a separate company before joining the Company of Blacksmiths in 1571.
The arms of the Loriners Company show three horse’s bits, along with three black metal bosses:
The plaque in Bucklesbury is unusual in that it is recording where the trade was carried out, rather than the location of a hall.
The Loriners’ did have a hall, which remained until the mid 19th century. The hall was located on London Wall, opposite Basinghall Street (not sure if there is a City plaque at the location of the hall – I need to check). Rocque’s map again is useful in confirming the location of the hall, as shown circled in the following extract:
By the end of the 19th century, the Loriners’ Company had very little involvement with any aspects of the old profession, and it was more a club for social and dining activities. This was common with many other City companies, as this article from the Evening News on the 21st of January 1914 implies:
“They endure, these old guilds, because of the dinner. The Loriners who have very little knowledge of the loriners’s trade. Gold and Wire Drawers who might essay in that delicate little job of drawing gold and silver wires. I know a Citizen and Fishmonger whose lore is not enough to help him in choosing a middle cut of salmon at the stores. Nevertheless, these Loriners and Fishmongers and Wire drawers still flourish, branch and root, dining as their ancestors dined.”
The Worshipful Company of Loriners is still in existence, and still dining, using some of the other City Company halls for their events, but is also involved in a wide range of charitable and educational activities.
My final location in this ramble through a number of the City of London’s plaques is not far away from the Loriners.
Walk through number 1 Poultry to Queen Victoria Street and walk up to the Mansion House, where on the Walbrook corner of the building is a plaque recording the location of:
St Mary Woolchurch Haw
Tucked away on the corner of the Mansion House is a plaque, arrowed in the following photo:
Which records that the plaque marks the site of St Mary Woolchurch Haw:
St Mary Woolchurch Haw was one of the City’s churches that was destroyed during the 1666 Great Fire, and not rebuilt. It is remarkable how many churches were in the City before 1666. Many were not rebuilt. A further wave were lost during the late 19th century rebuild of much of the City, and a number were lost and not rebuilt during and after the last war, yet still whenever on a City street we are not far from a church.
The name of St Mary is interesting, but the plaque gives no further information. The dedication is to Mary Woolchurch a name which implies that the church was near to, or had some involvement with wool, but what does Haw mean?
To find out, I referred to the book I use most for learning about pre-1666 City churches – “London Churches Before The Great Fire”, by Wilberforce Jenkinson and published in 1917.
The section on St Mary Woolchurch Haw includes the following:
“St Mary Woolchurch formerly stood near the Stocks Market, which was on the site of the present Mansion House. Stow writes that it was so called ‘of a beam placed in the church yard, which was therefore called Wool Church Haw, of the Troanage, or weighing of Wool there used’
The church was built by Hubert de Ria in the time of William the Conqueror. The first rector whose name is recorded being William de Hynelond, 1349-50. The patronage was partly with the Crown and partly with the Convent of St John the Baptist, Colchester. The church was rebuilt in the 20th year of Henry VI.
John Tireman, rector in 1641, at the commencement of the Civil War was compelled to retire in consequence of his loyalty. john Bull was preacher during the Protectorate, and was afterwards Master of the Temple. The church was not rebuilt after the Fire, but the parish was annexed to that of St Mary Woolnoth”.
So a Haw was a form of beam which was used in the weighing of wool. The Victoria and Albert Museum have a Wool Weight which would have been used with a Haw (Source Link).
The wool weight in the above photo dates from between 1550 and 1600. As can be seen in the photo, the weight has a hole at the top, and through this would have been threaded a leather strap which allowed the weight to be hung on one end of a beam or Haw.
Weights were typically of 7, 14 and 28lbs. The one in the photo is 14lbs.
The beam was pivoted in the middle, with wool suspended at one end, and weights added to the other end of the beam. When the beam balanced, the weight of the wool could be read from the number and weights of the weights used.
The extract from the book mentions that “St Mary Woolchurch formerly stood near the Stocks Market“.
The Stocks Market dates from the 13th century with a charter issued by Edward I. The market was named after the only set of fixed stocks in the City which were used for punishments, such as when William Sperlynge was pilloried in the stocks for trying to sell rotten meat, which was burnt under his nose whilst he was held in the stocks.
The market gradually specialised and by the 15th century it was known as a meat and fish market.
The market was destroyed during the Great Fire of 1666, along with the church of St Mary Woolchurch Haw.
Although the church was not rebuilt, the market was, and expanded to included the land once occupied by the church. It became a general market, which as well as meat and fish, included fruit and vegetables and was one of the major markets of the City.
The church in the background of the above print with the dome and tower is St Stephen Walbrook. The large statue at the front of the Stocks Market is of Charles II, but it has a very interesting history.
The statue originally came from Italy and was an unfinished work showing the King of Poland, John Sobieski on his horse which was trampling on a Turk,
The statue had been brought to London by Sir Robert Vyner who was Lord Mayor of the City in 1675.
A Polish king would make no sense in a City market, and Robert Vyner had the head of the statue replaced with one of Charles II, and the head of the Turk was replaced by one of Oliver Cromwell (or possibly the original head was reworked).
When the statue was removed, it was given to a descendant of Sir Robert Vyner who apparently relocated it from the City to a family estate in Lincolnshire, from where it was later moved to Newby Hall in North Yorkshire, where the statue that was originally on the site of the Stocks Market, and what is now the Mansion House, can still be seen today:
In 1986, my father photographed some graffiti on a wall in Prestons Road which runs from Poplar to the Isle of Dogs.
The 1980s were a traumatic time for the residents of the Isle of Dogs. The docks had closed and the developments that would lead to the office complex around Canary Wharf, as well as many new housing developments, were underway.
Much of this new development would not directly benefit local residents. Thousands of office jobs for those living outside of the Isle of Dogs, and new homes being built which were typically much more expensive than traditional homes in the area. Very little of the money being poured into new developments would find its way to the original residents.
The graffiti on the wall in Prestons Road reflects some of the anger and frustration felt as a result of the developments. Barratts the builders are mentioned on the right of the wall, along with Asda.
Whilst the build of a new Asda store could have been seen as a positive for residents, in reality it was one of the many cultural changes imposed, where centralised shopping would badly impact the trade of multiple small, often family owned shops.
The graffiti was on a wall in Prestons Road. This road runs from a junction with Poplar High Street down to the so called Blue Bridge, which crosses the east entrance to West India South Dock from the Thames.
I think I found the location when I went for a walk along Prestons Road, and I will explain later in the post, however before walking the road, some background to a road that has changed significantly in the last decades.
The most significant change to Prestons Road is in the northern part, up to the junction with Poplar High Street. Between the northern and southern sections of the road, it has been divided by a large roundabout and the dual carriageways of the A1261, or the Aspen Way, which is carried over the roundabout, as can be seen in the above map.
The A1261 provides a route between the A13 at the start of the East India Dock Road in the west, through to the Lower Lea Crossing in the east.
Construction of this road had significant impact on the area, and in some ways, reinforced the division between the Isle of Dogs and the rest of Poplar. The A1261 was built as part of the transformation of transport infrastructure surrounding development of the Docklands, which included other major projects such as the Limehouse Link Tunnel.
By comparing the two maps, it can be seen that the northern part of Prestons Road, up to Poplar High Street has changed to enable the entry and exit carriageways to the roundabout. Where Prestons Road once had a straight section down from Poplar High Street, it is now more angled to accommodate the roundabout. This will be relevant when searching for the location of the graffiti.
This boundary between the Isle of Dogs and Poplar has been long in the making. The following extract from Smith’s New Plan of London, dated 1816, shows that the construction of the West India Docks had created a barrier across the centre, leaving only the two roads either side of the peninsula:
In the above map, I have circled the location of Prestons Road, and whilst the southern section across the dock entrances was in place, the northern section had not been built. Instead, a turn to the right entered Brunswick Street.
I believe that the northern section of Prestons Road was built at the same time as the Poplar Docks which were located on the left of the section of the street just to the south of the roundabout.
We must go back to the 18th century, to see the area before any of the docks were built to understand how the docks, and then Canary Wharf and the Aspen Way have created an apparent northern boundary to the Isle of Dogs.
In the following map from 1703, we can see that the whole area was part of Poplar, with Poplar High Street already lined with buildings. To follow on from last week’s post, I have also circled a reference to Penny Fields to the left.
Brunswick Street is to the right, however rather than just east and west routes, up until the construction of the docks, there were to roads running down from Poplar High Street, including the central road which ran down to the ferry across the Thames to Greenwich, at the southern tip of the peninsula.
So today, when crossing under the Aspen Way, it feels like a boundary has been crossed, and we are entering the Isle of Dogs. Time to take a walk along Prestons Road:
The above photo was taken at the junction of Prestons Road with Poplar High Street.
For this post, I am using the spelling of the street as seen on the street name signs in 1986 and today. Many references to the street also refer to Preston’s, however to stay with the name signs, I will leave out the apostrophe.
The following photo is looking south from the junction in the above photo. The upper part of Prestons Road was angled slightly to the left when the roundabout was built. If I remember rightly, the wall with the graffiti was somewhere along the right side of the street.
A short distance down the street is a turn off to the right with Poplar Business Park at the end:
In the background of the 1986 photo, the frame of a building under construction can be seen. The majority of buildings to the south of Poplar High Street are relatively recent, and do not date back to the 1980s, however I wondered if the Poplar Business Park could be the building which was under construction when my father took the photo.
It is certainly in the right place, if my memory is correct that the wall was around here.
I looked for references to the Poplar Business Park to try and date the building, and found an advert from 1988 for “Moat Security Doors, Poplar Business Park, Prestons Road, Isle of Dogs, E14”, who sold iron gates to add security in front of a door, or as they advertised “Never be afraid to open your front door again”.
So the Poplar Business Park was in operation in 1988, so possibly safe to assume it was the building photographed under construction two years earlier. Interesting that whilst in the Poplar Business Park, they used Isle of Dogs in the address, despite being at the northern end of Prestons Road, very close to Poplar High Street.
If I am correct, the wall would have been to the left of the above photo, or perhaps to the left of the photo below which is looking up Prestons Road, with the side road to the Poplar Business Park being the street where the grey car is about to exit:
A very short distance to the south is where Prestons Road crosses under the A1261, the Aspen Way, a very significant set of new road infrastructure:
From the south, looking north, and the slip road to the east, up to the Aspen Way towards the City of London and one of the new road access points to Canary Wharf:
From the edge of the roundabout we can see some of the new residential towers that are becoming so common across this part of east London:
A full view of the routes that can be accessed via the roundabout that obliterated part of Prestons Road:
This is the view looking south along Prestons Road into the Isle of Dogs. I do not live there, so I am not really one to judge, but when walking the area, it is only along here that I feel I am entering the Isle of Dogs:
In the above photo, there is a tall brick wall, in shadow, on the right. This is the wall between the street and Poplar Docks, the construction of which I believe, resulted in the construction of this section of Prestons Road, as a road would have been needed along the boundary to serve entrances to the docks.
The following photo is of Poplar Dock today, looking west with two cranes remaining from when the dock was operational:
The site is now Poplar Dock Marina and is full with narrow boats and an assorted range of other smaller craft. Poplar Dock opened in 1851, however the site had originally been used from 1827 as a reservoir to balance water levels in the main West India Dock just to the west. In the 1840s the area was used as a timber pond before conversion to a dock.
Poplar Docks served a specific purpose, being known as a railway dock as the docks were almost fully ringed by railway tracks and depots of the railway companies.
Walking south along the street, and the area between the street and the river is full of new buildings, however there is a rather strange, flying saucer shaped building to be seen:
The building is one of the air vents and access points to the Blackwall Tunnel, which runs parallel (but deeper) to the northern section of Prestons Road.
Looking north towards the roundabout, and we can see the tall brick wall that once separated Poplar Dock from Prestons Road:
We now come to one of the crossings over the channels from the docks to the Thames:
This is the channel that ran from the Thames to Blackwall Basin, and then led into the West India Docks (see the extract from Smith’s New Plan of London, dated 1816 earlier in the post).
This is the view looking east along the channel towards the Blackwall Basin. The Canary Wharf complex has been built over much of the old West India Docks.
To the right of the above photo, behind the trees is the old Dockmaster’s House:
The Dockmaster’s House is named Bridge House and was built between 1819 and 1820 for the West India Dock Company’s Principal Dockmaster. The entrance to the house faces to the channel running between docks and river, however if you look on the right of the building, you will see large bay windows facing out towards the river. This was a deliberate part of the design by John Rennie as these windows, along with the house being on raised ground would provide a perfect view towards the river and the shipping about to enter or leave the docks.
A short distance further on and Prestons Road crosses another channel between docks and river. This is the channel between the West India South Dock and the Thames, and the view west provides a stunning view of some of the recent developments:
With the Docklands Light Railway crossing the old dock in the distance:
Original cranes remaining from when this was a working dock:
It is fascinating when standing here to imagine the many thousands of ships that have entered or exited through this channel, and where they had been coming from or going to.
Looking east where the channel meets the river.
The bridge that spans the channel in the above photos is the bridge that has taken on the name of the Blue Bridge.
Built during the late 1960s, the bridge is just the latest of a number that have spanned the channel.
The bridge marks the end of Prestons Road, continuing south, the road changes name to Manchester Road, all the way to the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs, where the road again changes name to Westferry Road, which then continues along the western side of the Isle of Dogs, all the way up to the West India Dock Road, which it joins opposite Pennyfields, explored in last week’s post.
The view heading south from the bridge:
On the right of the above photo, there is a row of terrace houses that run along a street slightly offset from what is now Manchester Road. This terrace marks the original route of Manchester Road up to an earlier incarnation of the bridge.
Having come to the end of my walk along Prestons Road, there was one last place I wanted to find.
Asda was part of the graffiti on the 1980s wall, so I wanted to find the store that would change the approach to shopping on the Isle of Dogs.
I walked along Manchester Road, then cut through Mudchute Park:
As usual, there is far too much for a weekly post, and I will return to the Isle of Dogs and places like Mudchute in future posts, however it was an area of land created by dumping the spoil when constructing and dredging Millwall Dock.
Now a large area of parkland, a city farm, and with a restored anti-aircraft gun, commemorating the Second World War when a number of these guns were based in the area, and the terrible suffering from bombing of those living on the Isle of Dogs:
An exit from Mudchute runs directly into the Asda car park, with the many new developments gradually taking over the Isle of Dogs in the background:
This was the change in shopping in the 1980s when many of the major stores opened up large “superstores” with car parks where you could drive and do a complete weekly shop without having to go to a number of separate shops.
Perhaps more convenient, but an approach that would result in the closure of so many individual, often family run shops.
The view across the car park to the Asda store:
The store gives away its 1980s heritage by the lack of lots of glass, which is typical of the majority of recent stores of this type.
The coming of Asda marked the early years of the developments that would dramatically change the Isle of Dogs, change that is continuing as the glass and steel towers continue to grow.
It would be great to know if I have the correct location for the wall with the graffiti.
If any past or current resident of the Isle of Dogs can confirm, or advise the correct location, I would be very grateful.
I assume the wall was just demolished as part of the development of the area, and the changes as a result of the new roundabout and the Aspen Way. A real shame that the wall was not kept, as part of the historical records of the changes to this fascinating part of London.
The three volumes of “Wonderful London”, published in the 1920s contain a fascinating photographic record of the city at the start of the 20th century. Many of the scenes are recognisable today, however many have also changed beyond all recognition, and offer a glimpse of a way of life before being swept away during post-war redevelopment. One of these photos is of Pennyfields, Poplar.
The photo is titled “Gloom and Grime in the East End: Chinatown”, and has the following description: “A view of Pennyfields, which runs from West India Dock Road to Poplar High Street. There is a Chinese restaurant on the corner. A few Chinese and European clothes are all that are to be seen in the daytime”:
The same view today (March 2022):
The only surviving feature between the two photos which are around 100 years apart (although Wonderful London was published in 1926/7, the individual photos are not dated), is the street, Pennyfields, which runs from West India Dock Road (where I am standing), to Poplar High Street.
There are a number of features in the Wonderful London photo, two pubs on the left of the street, and the Chinese restaurant on the right, and the following graphic shows the position of these on the street today:
Pennyfields, and the surrounding area, changed dramatically during the 19th century. At the start of the century, there was still a considerable amount of open space, however the arrival of the West India and East India Docks would drive the development of the area, and by the end of the 19th century, the land around Pennyfields was covered in dense terrace housing along with the infrastructure needed to serve the docks.
The following map is from Smiths New Plan of London, dated 1816. Pennyfields is not named, and appears to be a westward continuation of Poplar High Street:
I have marked a number of features in the above map. H. Doe. Foon is the Chinese restaurant on the corner. Note that the shape of the building in the above map is the same as the building in the photo. The restaurant also has the number 57. This was 57 West India Dock Road, not Pennyfields.
As with any east London street of the late 20th century, there are a number of pubs.
The pub that can just be seen on the left of the Wonderful London photo was the Commercial Tavern. Not seen in the photo, but to the upper left on the West India Dock Road was the Oporto Tavern.
In the Wonderful London photo, there is what appears to be a pub, with a large lantern outside. This is not marked as a Public House on the Ordnance Survey map, but I believe from checking street directories, that this was the premises of John Simpson, Beer Retailer, and would later become the Rose and Crown.
There are two more pubs along Pennyfields, not seen in the photo, the Three Tuns and the Silver Lion are marked on the map.
I will start a walk through the area just north of Pennyfields, at the Westferry Arms in West India Dock Road. In the 1895 OS map, I have marked the pub just north west of Pennyfields as the Oporto Tavern, and today it is the Westferry Arms:
The pub was originally the Oporto Tavern and changed name to the Westferry Arms around the year 2012, presumably named after Westferry Road which starts almost opposite the pub, along with Westferry DLR station.
The first reference I can find to the pub is from 1864, when the pub was advertising in the Morning Advertiser for a potman, so I suspect the pub was opened around 1860.
The pub was just a short distance north of one of the main entrances to the West India Docks, and was popular with those who worked at the docks as well as those who arrived by ship.
Bill Neal, who had been landlord of the Oporto Tavern for thirty one years when he died in 1951 and was such an institution that his death resulted in an article in the national Daily Mirror, an article which describes a way of life that would soon change for ever:
“The Juke Box is silent now in the pub where the sailors go – Before dawn came to London’s Covent Garden yesterday they were seeking out the most fragrant, whitest lilac and later, down in the West India Dock-road, Chinese were searching for black-edged handkerchiefs of mourning.
For Bill Neal is dead. Bill who for thirty-one years stood behind the bar of the Oporto Tavern in the West India Dock-road, only a few yards from the gates of the docks that lead seafarers to faraway places.
Bill was the seamen’s first port of call. He cared for the money of the wise ones who were determined to blot out their cares in drink. He was a soft touch for a free meal. Legend has it that he once even gave away his boots. But he could throw out the noisy drunkard quicker than any other landlord.
A man walked sadly into the saloon bar yesterday and stuck a slip of paper over the slot of the juke-box.
For the rest of the week, visiting seamen will not hear the music they love – for Bill Neal is dead.
And in the bar where Bill reigned for so many years – above the song song of the Chinese barbers and laundrymen, and the voices of the Limehouse Cockney, one voice was clear this morning.
It was that of the Rev. H. Evans, vicar of St Matthias, poplar, who stood where he had so often stood to have a chat with Bill. He was the ideal Christian, Mr. Evans said, he thought of other people and never of himself. Other people say he was foolishly generous.
In the decades after Bill Neal’s death, the docks would close and the seamen would disappear, and today the tower blocks of flats that are typical of new building on the Isle of Dogs have reached to the opposite side of the West India Dock Road:
The Westferry Arms closed in 2016 after a number of years when the pub attracted the drugs trade and also many complaints of noise, which is rather strange given how close the pub was to the (also now closed) Limehouse Police Station, which was a very short distance further north.
In 2015 there was an application to review the premises licence for the Westferry Arms, and reading through it is almost comical, where “whilst in the yard of the Limehouse Police Station, Police Officers smelt a strong smell of cannabis in the air coming from the direction of the Westferry Arms Public House.”
The request to remove the pubs licence was turned down, however this was on the basis that the pub would implement a number of new measures to address the sale and use of drugs and to restrict noise and outside drinking. The request was also turned down at the licensing sub-committee as members “were very concerned about the lack of action taken by the Police despite the premises being just meters away from the Limehouse Police Station”.
Today, the Westferry Arms is closed, with metal grills protecting the ground floor doors and windows:
In 2020 a planning application was approved to demolish the Westferry Arms, and build a new nine storey tower, with the basement and ground floor being available as a pub, and the upper 8 floors consisting of a mix of one, two and three bedroom flats.
No indication of when demolition will start, and while the Westferry Arms / Oporto Tavern waits, it reflects that even if the ground floor of the new development opens as a pub, it will never see the likes of Bill Neal, Dockers or seamen from around the world again.
Just to the right of the pub is Birchfield Street. I noticed one of the wonderful London County Council plaques on the side of Birchfield House:
Birchfield House was the result of the only LCC slum clearance project in Poplar in the 1920s, and became part of the much larger Birchfield Estate during post war slum clearances, and redevelopment of bomb damaged buildings.
The following photo is looking back at the terrace of shops and flats where Pennyfields meets the West India Dock Road. The Commercial Tavern which can just be seen in the Wonderful London photo was at the far end of the terrace, where the blue / green shops are located.
The terrace of shops appears to date from the 1970s and were built following the clearance of buildings along this stretch of the street, which included demolition of the Commercial Tavern.
The closed and shuttered Pennyfield Launderette:
The next pub in the street is a bit of a mystery. In the Wonderful London photo, there appears to be a pub further down the street. It has large signs on the façade and a large hanging lantern over the street. It is a narrow building with only two horizontal window bays.
The 1895 OS map does not mark the building with the PH letters for a public house, however reading through street directories in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the occupation of the owner is listed as “beer seller”.
Checking for newspaper references and there are a number at the end of the 19th century to the “Rose and Crown beerhouse”. It is not identified as a public house.
The difference is down to the 1830 Beer Act, which defined a beer house as a premises which was only licenced to sell beer, and could not sell wine, spirits etc. So a public house could sell the full range of alcoholic drinks, and the beerhouse, only beer.
A later incarnation of the Rose and Crown can be found on Pennyfields today.
The original building lasted until the 1950s. Whilst the rest of the street was being purchased by the LCC for redevelopment, the Rose and Crown was rebuilt, and the 1950s version of the Rose and Crown pub can be seen on the street today:
Probably the most famous owners of the Rose and Crown were Queenie and Slim Watts. Born locally on the Isle of Dogs, Queenie was also a jazz singer. They ran two pubs, the Rose and Crown on Pennyfields and the Iron Bridge Tavern, at 447 East India Dock Road.
I cannot find the exact dates when Queenie Watts ran the Rose and Crown, various Internet posts about her refer to both the 1960s and 1970s, so it may have been across both decades.
Most newspaper reports about her and one of the pubs are from the 1960s, where, for example, the Stage on the 5th of November 1964 refer to “Queenie Watts of the Iron Bridge as the East Ends first lady”.
The Rose and Crown closed in the year 2000 and for a while was converted into a private house. Today, the ground floor is home to a Chinese restaurant.
The following photo is looking along Pennyfields, towards Poplar High Street. The south side of the street is on the right and in the late 19th century was described as the poorest side of the street, with cheap and crowded lodging houses, houses occupied by poor manual labourers, and brothels.
The reason why a photo of Pennyfields was included in the Wonderful London book was down to the reputation of Pennyfields and Limehouse Causeway as being the east London home of hundreds of Chinese seafarers and their families.
This was only for a relatively short period of time from the 1st World War to the 1930s, with the peak of the area’s reputation being in the 1920s – the same time as Wonderful London was published.
Pennyfields had always been multicultral, and checking census data and street directories, Jewish, Irish, Scandinavian and German names can be found.
In the 1910 street directory there was a Scandinavian Reading Room, and there were only two names which appear to be of Chinese origin: Wan Tsang, a Tobacconist at number 6, and Chang Ahon, an Interpreter at number 42.
The number would grow rapidly, with 182 Chinese men living in Pennyfields in 1918, and in the 1930s, around 5,000 were recorded as living in Pennyfields, Limehouse Causeway and the surrounding streets.
Moving into the area around Pennyfields was mainly down to the very close proximity of the docks (many were seamen), the availability of shops, restaurants etc. serving a Chinese customer base, and living in the same area as those of a similar origin – themes which have always influenced waves of east London immigration. Hostility from British sailors also prompted a clustering together by the Chinese seafaring community.
Pennyfields and Limehouse Causeway entered the public imagination as a place of mystery, opium dens, crime, brothels etc. In the 1920s, people from the wealthier parts of London would visit the area on a tour to see the mysterious Chinatown. East London opium dens have long featured in literature, film and TV series.
In reality, Pennyfields was much like any other east London street. It had a large Chinese population, but there were also many other nationalities as well as British working class.
The street was poor, housing and lodgings were crowded and in poor condition (again, much like many other east London streets). The street served a local economy, so to make money from the nearby docks there were pubs, brothels and lodging houses. The street had a mobile population as seamen from the docks arrived and departed.
Signage in the street added to its reputation, with Chinese names and written characters appearing on buildings – as seen on the resturant of H. Doe. Foon, but again much of this was short lived.
H. Doe Foon was on the corner of Pennyfields and West India Dock Road, and had a West India Dock address, being at number 57.
In the 1910 Post Office Directory, 57 West India Dock Road is listed a being occupied by Hutton and Co. Ship Chandlers. In the East London Observer, on the 10th of May 1930, 57 West India Dock Road was advertised as having the freehold for sale of a prominent corner shop and rooms. H. Doe Foon is listed in the 1920 street directory, so I suspect that it was the H. Doe Foon restaurant for nearly all of the 1920s.
But by being photographed and published in Wonderful London, H. Doe Foon has added to the street’s reputation.
The text with the photo in Wonderful London describes that within the street are “a score of shops selling chop suey, dried fish and vegetables, monster medicinal pills, tea, weird sweetmeats, and white preparation of palm”.
The text also describes crowded rooms with Chinamen playing “fan tan”, gambling, and the availability of drugs with a chalk cross on a door indicating that opium is available, and two crosses that cocaine can be purchased (perhaps like the Westferry Arms, Wonderful London also mentions that “it is virtually impossible for the police to obtain sufficient evidence to convict”).
The 19th century buildings of Pennyfields lasted until the 1950s and 1960s, when they were finally demolished to make way for new LCC / GLC flats and housing. The following extract from the 1950 OS map shows that many buildings did survive wartime bombing, although they were in a very poor condition by this time (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland“):
In the above map, the Rose and Crown is shown, so no longer a beer house, and to the right, at number 39, is the Three Tuns, one of the oldest pubs on the street. The first reference I can find to the pub is from 1826, when the name of the pub was used in a fraud where cheques were presented at various London breweries in an attempt to get the fake cheque cashed. Over £400 had been made this way before the person running the fraud was caught.
As with the rest of the street, the Three Tuns was demolished for post war redevelopment, which included Rosefield Gardens (a new street running north from Pennyfields) and the surrounding housing:
Much of the north eastern side of Pennyfields is now a park – Pennyfields Park, which again was created during the redevelopment of the area, the following photo shows one of the entrances to the park. the Three Tuns pub would have been just to the right, behind the recycling signage.
That a Pennyfields Park was created in the post war redevelopment of the area may be an accidental pointer to the origins of the name.
The meaning of the name is lost, however on Rocque’s 1746 map of London there is a reference to a Penny Fields, which seems to have been a 16 acre block of mainly undeveloped land (underlined in red in the following extract):
As well as being on Rocque’s 1746 map, there are mentions of the 16 acres of Penny Fields in 17th century land transactions, so the name does go back to at least the 1600s.
In the above map extract, Poplar High Street is on the right, and the street that will take the name Pennyfields is the straight street that connects Poplar High Street to Limehouse Causeway.
There is one final pub to track down, and this may well be the oldest on the street. To the right of the OS map of Pennyfields is a pub called the Silver Lion.
The first mention of the Silver Lion is from an advert for a property for sale, which gives us a description of the area before the dense housing that would come during the rest of the 19th century.
On the 21st of February 1815, the Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser was advertising “the Leasehold premises, known as Ebenezer House, near the Silver Lion, Penny Fields, Poplar, comprising a substantial brick built dwelling house most commandingly situate at the end of Penny Fields, in the most preferable part of Poplar High Street , with a large plot of garden ground in the front, enclosed with a dwarf wall and palisade railings. The house contains four good bedrooms, two parlours, entrance passage, kitchen, pantry, wine cellars, and other conveniences”.
If you look at the Rocque map extract, there is a Robins Rope Walk, this appears to have been within the 16 acres of Penny Fields as in the same newspaper as the above advert, there is also for sale “a Leasehold estate, adjoining Mr. Burchfield’s rope-ground, Penny-Fields, Poplar”.
So Pennyfields started off as a 16 acres plot of land to the south of the street, and included a rope-ground where lengths of rope for ships was made.
The name then was used for a street connecting Poplar High Street and Limehouse Causeway.
Originally with a few larger houses with gardens, the street was densely built during the 19th century with houses and premises that catered to the nearby West India Docks.
At the end of the 19th century, and in the early decades of the 20th century, Pennyfields was at the centre of the Chinese population in east London.
The post-war decline of the docks, bomb damage, and the gradually decaying state of the housing within Pennyfields led to redevelopment by the LCC and then the GLC which demolished all the 19th century buildings, rebuilt the Rose and Crown, and lined the street with new flats.
And that is how we see the street today, however although the name dates back to at least the 17th century, I suspect Pennyfields will always be known for the Chinese influence on the street for a few decades in the early 20th century.
Some years ago Thames Water signposted a New River Walk that follows the course of the New River as far as is possible, and where it is not possible to walk alongside, the route guides the walker to the next point to access the river.
A couple of weekends ago, on a grey and damp Saturday, we started a second weekend to complete the walk. Starting at October’s finishing point in Cheshunt, and ending at New River Head.
This post covers the New River Walk from Cheshunt to near Bowes Park station, where the river flows into a tunnel heading to Alexandra Palace. A mid-week post will cover the stage of the walk from Alexandra Palace to New River Head.
The route of today’s post can be seen in the following map. Starting at “S”, and with some of the key points covered in the post numbered.
The problem with arranging a weekend in advance is that the weather cannot be guaranteed, and after some sunny weekends, the weekend of the walk turned out grey and damp, with plenty of mud on the path.
The was the scene starting off at Cheshunt:
In the following photo, the large building on the right is the 40 acre site of Newsprinters. As the majority of newspapers no longer run their own print presses, companies such as Newsprinters provide this service to multiple newspapers, so if you read one, it may well have been printed at this site, which is alongside the A10.
A short distance onward, and the results of Storm Eunice were still visible, and would continue to be at a number of points along the New River:
Point 1 on the map: In the following photo the New River opens out into a small lake. The Cheshunt Country Club is behind the trees on the right, and behind the trees directly in front is Theobalds Park:
Theobalds Park is the site of a 16th century palace that was destroyed during the Civil War, and a later stately home which is now a hotel and club.
A London connection with Theobalds Park is that Temple Bar Gate was rebuilt here in 1888 after being demolished from its original location at the point where Fleet Street meets the Strand. The stones of the old gate were purchased by Lady Meux, wife of Sir Henry Bruce Meux (of the Meux’s Brewery Company), who owned the house in Theobalds Park.
The gate was rebuilt in the park, and used as an entertainment venue by Lady Meux.
The gate was relocated to London, with reconstruction and restoration completed in 2004, and the gate can now be seen at the entrance to Paternoster Square, just north of St Paul’s Cathedral.
The gate in Theobalds Park, five years before moving back to London:
Point 2 on the map: Continuing past Theobalds Park, and it was time to cross a major landmark on the route, a landmark that confirmed we were heading towards outer London. This was the crossing of the M25.
The New River flows from source in Ware to the current termination point at the west and east reservoirs by Seven Sisters Road, without any form of pumping. The incredibly slight gradient along the route is just sufficient to ensure a continuous flow of water.
Despite being built in the early 17th century, the New River continues to be a source of water for London, so when the New River meets the M25, the M25 has to give way.
The M25 has to go under the New River, and the river is carried over the motorway within its own dedicated bridge.
This is the point where the river is split into two channels, ready to enter the bridge:
The two channels flow along the bridge, which has a thick concrete slab covering the top:
Looking along the bridge dedicated to carrying the New River over the M25:
Although the bridge carrying the New River over the M25 has a solid concrete surface, this is not a traffic route. There is a track to the Thames Water equipment on either side of the bridge, so the use of a hard surface over the bridge could be to allow Thames Water equipment to move between the two sides of the motorway.
It could also be used to prevent any accidental spillover from the river to the motorway below.
The view looking west from the centre of the bridge:
And the view looking east, at Junction 25 on the M25:
A relatively rural scene at the southern end of the bridge, with a green New River Path signpost showing the way:
The two channels of the New River exit on the south side of the M25:
Colourful graffiti on a rather grey day:
Point 3 on the map: The New River has to cross a number of natural rivers in its route from Ware to New River Head. One of these rivers is the Turkey Brook, which rises just to the east of Potters Bar and heads to join the River Lee Navigation not far from Enfield Lock station.
The Turkey Brook is shown in the following photo, with, in the background the Docwra Viaduct, originally built in 1859, which carries the New River over the Turkey Brook:
Construction of the aqueduct enabled one of the long meanders of the New River to be replaced by a straightened route. The aqueduct was built by Thomas Docwra of Cheshunt, who is presumably the source of the name.
According to the Thames Water guide to the walk, somewhere around the Docwra Aqueduct are a number of boreholes which enable the New River to be part of an “Artificial Recharge Scheme”. This is where water is extracted from the New River and pumped into the chalk below ground. When extra water is needed to supply London, it is then pumped back out of this aquifer.
I did not see any evidence of this, but the path diverts slightly around the Docwra Aqueduct, and along the path there were also a number of bland brick buildings with nothing to provide a clue as to their function.
Soon after the Docwra Aqueduct, the evidence of the long straight route of the river enabled by the aqueduct can be seen, along with a number of places where what looked like over sized sandbags lining one side of the river:
Not sure why there would be sandbags, as the New River is not a natural river liable to flood, with water levels in the New River being controlled.
Another casualty from Storm Eunice:
And more evidence of the storm:
Point 4 on the map: The walk has now reached Enfield, and there is very little of the river to see. Originally, there was a loop of the river around Enfield, however in 1900, this loop was bypassed by the construction of three cast iron pipes under the town which carried the river on a more direct route.
This means that the New River Walk now runs through the streets of Enfield, with the green signposts directing the way:
Parts of the original route of the New River around Enfield have been preserved as an ornamental watercourse, and the most attractive part is along the aptly named River View, which starts with the Crown and Horseshoes pub overlooking the old river:
Looking along River View, with terrace houses lining one side of the footpath, the ornamental remains of the New River on the other side:
The houses on the right in the above photo appear to have their own private bridge over the river to their gardens.
Small park at the end of River View – one of the small bridges over the ornamental New River can be seen on the right:
South of Enfield we pick up the New River again, however it does a number of disappearing acts as it flows through housing estates and other areas where there is no accessible path alongside the river.
Point 5 on the map: This is another point where the New River has to cross a natural stream. It also shows the age of the New River Walk, and that there appears to have been little major maintenance of the walk over the last few years.
Another of the natural streams that the New River had to cross was Salmon’s Brook. This stream has its source in fields north of Hadley Wood station, and eventually flows into the River Lee.
To carry the stream under the New River, a lead lined wooden aqueduct was originally constructed, which was replaced by a brick aqueduct in 1682, which was later largely replaced by a clay embankment and tunnel.
The 1682 arch (known as the Clarendon Arch after the Earl of Clarendon who was the Governor of the New River Company at the time that the arch was constructed) through which the Salmon’s Brook enters the tunnel under the New River was a viewing point when Thames Water originally laid out the New River path, however access to the viewing point has become overgrown and in a bad state of repair and is now closed and fenced off, so it was impossible to get down to the stream and see the arch.
At the top of the viewing point, there is a stone plaque. Very hard to read due to weathering and lack of maintenance, however it dates from 1786 when the New River was raised on a bank of earth over the stream.
The following photo shows the stone plaque and Salmon’s Brook. Originally there was access via steps to the right to see the 1682 arch, which is now a Grade II listed structure.
The arch is the oldest part of the New River to remain, and has an inscription and crest around the entrance to the tunnel:
Around Winchmore Hill, the New River meanders past larger houses, with gardens backing onto the river:
With New River green signs directing the path along some small diversions:
There are a number of buildings along this stretch of the New River that appear to be pumping stations, however unlike the buildings in the stretch from Ware to Cheshunt, these buildings do not appear to be extracting ground water and pumping into the river.
In the following photo, the building does have what appears to be a concrete channel running to the river, so it may have the capability to pump water from the chalk below, into the river.
Point 6 on the map: At this point, the New River comes up to Green Lanes by the junction with Carpenter Gardens before turning away to head into a housing estate. A couple of stones mark the New River along with a small green space, with the reminder that the New River is “Neither New, Nor a River”:
We can follow the New River for a short distance from the above photo, but it then heads between rows of houses on either side, with the gardens of the houses reaching straight down to the river – so no walking route.
Instead, we walk along the adjacent streets. Here is the aptly named River Avenue, with the New River behind the houses on the left:
I have no idea whether having the New River running at the end of your garden adds to the property price, but it does feature in estate agents descriptions, as there is currently one house for sale in the street that has “fantastic views over the New River and the London skyline • 40ft x 20ft rear garden backing onto the New River”.
Rejoining the New River and more dramatic evidence of Storm Eunice:
The stretch with the marque is along a section of the New River where there is an earth embankment along one side where the river was built along sloping ground and the embankment was needed to ensure the level flow of the river.
At the far end of this stretch, an attempt had been made to close off the access point, presumably due to the marque:
Point 7 on the map: There are two landmarks at point 7. The first is where the New River crosses yet another natural river, this is Pymmes Brook emerging from a tunnel under the adjacent railway line, before it enters another tunnel under the New River:
Pymmes Brook appears to emerge in the golf course, just to the north west of Cockfosters station. As with the other rivers and streams that the New River crosses, Pymmes Brook flows east to where it joins the River Lee.
These streams seem relatively insignificant, however taking a wider view and looking at a topographic map, we can see how they have formed in low ground either side of the higher ground of Cockfosters, and over centuries have probably been responsible for some of the erosion of the lower ground as they drained the area around Hadley Wood.
The second landmark at point 7 is where the New River crosses the A406 – the north circular road seen in the photo below. The bridge carries a railway across the road, the New River is flowing under the road directly in front of where I am standing:
The following photo shows the New River emerging from the tunnel that carries it under the North Circular:
After crossing the North Circular, the New River continues alongside terrace streets. One of the houses backing on to the New River has a faded ghost sign for a Builder and Decorator. An unusual position as the sign was not facing onto any road:
I am approaching the end of the first day of the weekend’s walk, and the New River helpfully provides a natural stopping point.
I have reached Bowes Park (Point E on the map), and here the New River enters a tunnel:
The tunnel was built as one of the 19th century initiatives to straighten out the New River and the tunnel runs from Bowes Park to near Alexandra Palace station, and this straight length of tunnel (built in 1859) reduced the original overall length of the New River by 1.5km.
That was the end of Saturday’s walk. Luckily, public transport serves the New River walk really well. In the upper stretches of the walk, it is close to the line from Liverpool Street up to Ware, and for the walk covered in today’s post, it is close to the line to Moorgate, so from the entrance to the tunnel, it was a short walk up to Bowes Park station.
There are numerous places along the route of the New River which take a name from some aspect of the river. Whether a simple name like River Avenue, or perhaps named after someone associated with the river, and the road that leads from the New River up to Bowes Park station is called Myddleton Road after Sir Hugh Myddleton who was the driving force behind the financing and construction of the New River in the early years of the 17th century.
The name is also displayed on the top of this house in Myddleton Road, that was once the home of Lazaris Family Butchers:
We arrived at Bowes Park station, just as a train was leaving. The next one was cancelled, so the day ended with an hours wait on a windswept platform for a train:
Before I end the post, you may be wondering (or almost certainly not), how the New River is kept relatively clean of floating debris, given the amount of trees that line the side, number of housing estates the river flows through etc.
We did notice that there was more rubbish in the river, the further we headed into London, but we also saw a rather clever cleaning method in use at two locations.
In the following photo, you can see a small cage suspended over the river.
This cage moves along the gantry across the river and is lowered into the river. There is a grating in the river that allows rubbish to collect rather than continue flowing. As the cage is dropped into the river, the lower section opens up as it falls below the surface of the water.
The cage then collects any rubbish collected against the grating, the cage closes, and is raised. It then moves to the right where once over the ground, the cage opens, depositing any collected rubbish on the ground.
The cage is lowered progressively across the river so the whole width is covered.
The whole process appears to be automatic as there was no one visible on the river bank, or building from which to operate the system.
And that is how the New River is automatically cleaned.
Time permitting, the final stage, from Bowes Park to New River Head in north Clerkenwell will be the subject of a mid-week post in the next couple of weeks.
The church of St Bride’s is set back from Fleet Street, and the body of the church is not that visible, however walk a short distance and the steeple of the church rises above the surrounding buildings:
Remarkably there has not been any taller buildings in the surrounding streets which could obscure the view of the steeple, and the roof line of Fleet Street is much the same as it was in the 1940s when the following view for the postcard series “London under Fire” was taken:
A visit to St Bride’s today, reveals two distinct sides to the church. There is the historic church, which includes evidence of the Roman city almost 2,000 years ago, and there is the church today which is the spiritual centre for a profession that we see on our TV screens every day.
The design of the current church dates from Wren’s post Great Fire rebuild of the church. The previous church having been completely destroyed by the fire that devastated so many City churches,
Although the rebuilt church reopened in 1675, the steeple was not completed until 1703. The steeple was Wren’s tallest steeple and today is actually 8 feet shorter than when originally completed due to a lightning strike and subsequent rebuilding work.
The steeple is also traditionally thought to be the inspiration of the tiered wedding cake, and up close, the steeple provides no reason to doubt this story:
The above print is dated 1753, however Rocque’s map of London seven years earlier shows the area in front of the church occupied by buildings, so I do not know if some artistic licence was used in the above print, or whether the block had been demolished, and the artist had used the opportunity to portray this unique view of St Bride’s.
In the following extract from Rocque’s 1746 map, St Bride’s (marked as St Bridget) is shown just to the left of centre, and as now, was surrounded by buildings.
St Brigit (St Bride) was an abbess of a number of convents in Ireland, the most important of which was at Kildare. Brigit is believed to have lived between 451 and 525, and there are very few, if any, written records from that time, with what is known of her coming from later writings and anecdotes.
The majority of churches dedicated to St Brigit / Bride, or place names, are in Ireland or Wales and the west of England (such as St Brides Bay in Wales). The church in London is a rare example of the name in the east of the country.
Looking at the extract from Rocque’s map, and to the north of the church is “St Bride’s A”. This is St Bride’s Avenue, a narrow passageway that still runs between the church and the buildings on the southern side of Fleet Street:
In the above photo, a gate between the two lights leads into the churchyard, and a side entrance into the church, however I much prefer the entrance underneath the tower, as this entrance provides a view from under the tower into the brightly lit nave of St Bride’s:
St Bride’s was devastated during the last war, when bombing and fire, mainly during December 1940, reduced the church to a shell of side walls, tower and steeple.
The interior we see today is to Wren’s core design, but is the result of the post war rebuild, with everything, including floor, all wooden structures, roof etc. being from the 1950s and later refurbishments:
The view from close to the altar, looking back along the church to the entrance under the tower:
I have touched on the history of the church, but there is far more to discover which I will come to later in the post, however whilst in the church, there is the opportunity to explore one aspect of St Bride’s that is very relevant to life today.
St Bride’s has a long association with the print trade and journalism, dating back to around 1500 when the printing press of Wynkyn de Worde was established near the church. This association grew with the rise of Fleet Street as a centre of journalism and the newspaper industry.
Whilst newspapers have left Fleet Street, St Bride’s maintains this connection.
If you watch TV news today, or listen to a radio report, chances are these will be from a journalist and their support staff in Ukraine. Kitted out in protective gear. Those who report from war zones run a very real risk of injury or death, and those who have been lost in previous wars are commemorated in St Bride’s, including this memorial to those who lost their lives whilst covering the 2003 Iraq war:
St Bride’s has also created a Journalists’ Altar, to commemorate those within the profession who have died, are held hostage or have an unknown fate.
Unfortunately, there are too many to display at any one time, so the photos are rotated.
The three photos just above the candle are for Roman Protasevich, the Belarusian journalist who was arrested at Minsk airport in 2021. In the centre is John Cantile, who was taken hostage in Syria in 2012 by Islamic State and is still missing, and on the right is American freelance journalist Austin Tice who was also kidnapped in 2012, in Syria.
On either side of the Nave of the church, there is wooden seating, and these seats also have plaques commemorating those in the profession who have died. I have selected two to show the range of those named in St Bride’s.
The first is Patricia (Paddy) Mary Watson:
Patricia Watson was a journalist on the staff of the Daily Sketch, who died at the age of 23 in an aircraft accident over Italy on the 22nd of October 1958.
I found the details of the accident recorded in newspaper reports from the time, as follows:
“A British European Airways Viscount and an Italian Air Force jet fighter collided near Nettuno, central Italy, and the airliner plunged to earth with the feared loss of 30 lives, cables Reuter.
Airport authorities in Rome said it was believed none of the 25 passengers and five crew survived. The fighter pilot was reported to have parachuted into the sea and was then picked up by a rescue launch.
BEA’s manager in Rome, Mr. David Craig, said he had been informed by the Italian authorities that all on board the Viscount were dead. The airliner was flying from London to Malta via Naples.
The Viscount and the fighter, an F36 Sabre jet, collided between Nettuno and Anzio. The wreckage of the Viscount was ten miles south-east of Anzio, a short distance inland from the sea, Mr. Craig said.
A police official at Nettuno said that after the collision, there was a terrific explosion. The British airliner blew up. Everyone on board must have been killed instantly. the wreckage came streaming down in a shower. The biggest piece was not more than a yard long.
The pilot of the fighter managed to parachute out of his plane immediately and the plane went on flying for a short distance before plunging downwards. The pilot of the fighter, Capt. Giovanni Savorelli, was taken to Nettuno hospital suffering from shock, Hospital authorities said he was otherwise uninjured.
An Italian civilian is believed to have been killed on the ground by falling wreckage. Within two hours of the crash Italian police announced that 15 bodies had been found. Police said the airliner was flying at 23,000 ft. at the time of the collision.
Among the dead were Miss Patricia Watson (23), a member of the Daily Sketch staff. Mr. Brian Fogaty (25) freelance photographer, and Mr. Lee Benson, free-lance reporter. They were on a Daily Sketch assignment.
Another member of the party was Miss Jane Buckingham (22) a London model.“
The first paragraph of the above report mentions Reuter as the source of the news, which brings us to the second plaque, to Julius Reuter:
Paul Julius Reuter was a German immigrant to London. In Germany he had been running an early form of financial news service which relied on the telegraph and even carrier pigeons, to distribute financial information such as the prices of stocks.
In 1851, he set-up an office in the City of London, and using a new telegraph cable between London and Paris, started transmitting stock market quotations and news between the two city’s.
Reuter established the company known as Reuters, and as submarine cables and radio services allowed global communication, Reuters built a global network of journalists providing news and financial information, so as the plaque states, he was “First to spread world news worldwide”.
Reuters struggled somewhat in the early years of the 21st century, and in 2008, Reuters merged with the Canadian media organisation Thompson, to form Thomson Reuters.
Reuters had a presence close to St Bride’s, with offices at 85 Fleet Street, in the building designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, and completed in 1938 for the Press Association.
St Bride’s relationship with the professions of print and journalism are very much alive today, however I hope that no more names need to be added to those who have died whilst working as journalists.
I have touched on the history of the Wren church we see today, and there is a much older side to the church, which we can see with a visit to the superb displays in the Crypt:
To discover the history of the Crypt, I turned to my go to book for post-war archeological excavations across the City – “The Excavation of Roman and Mediaeval London” by W.F. Grimes.
St Bride’s had a Mediaeval crypt, which had been retained when Wren rebuilt the church in the 17th century, however access to the crypt had been lost, and apart from a drawing preserved by the Reverend John Pridden who was a curate at St Bride’s from 1783 to 1803, there was no information on the layout of the crypt.
In the section on St Bride’s, Grimes explains that the church authorities invited the Roman and Mediaeval London Excavation Council to look for the vault before work started to rebuild the church.
The invitation was accepted, along with a request to extend the excavation beyond just the discovery of the crypt. The post-war state of the church can be understood with the following photo from Grimes book, showing the interior of the church from above:
The white outline in the photo is that of the early Anglo-Norman church.
Walking down to the Crypt today, and there are two sections. On the left is a narrow walkway, where we can walk alongside the remains of some of the early walls and foundations of the church:
This section of the crypt has a number of memorials from the pre-war church, alongside more memorials to those in the media:
On the right is the main section of the crypt, where the key features found during the post war excavation can be seen along with display cases telling the history of the church, and displaying some of the finds from the excavations.
Grimes explains that the history of the site begins in the Roman period, when a stone building with a plain floor of red and some yellow tesserae was found at the eastern end of the church, some 10 feet below the floor level of Wren’s church.
The floor sections discovered are behind walls and foundations of medieval versions of the church, and can be seen today via mirrors which reflect the view of the Roman floor from behind the stone walls:
The Roman floor was found to have been built on natural gravels, which extended westwards within the church, gradually increasing in height.
The level of the Roman floor is very similar to that of the streets that surround St Bride’s church today, which as shown in the earlier view of St Bride’s Avenue, are lower than the church, and descend to the east.
Another part of the Roman floor on display:
As well as the Roman tiled floor, an unexpected feature found towards the western end of the church was a Roman ditch. This was of a reasonable size, and extended beyond the site of the excavations so the full extent of the ditch and what it could have enclosed were not found at the time.
There was very little evidence of an early Christian church on the site of St Bride’s, although a number of burials were found which were probably early Christian. Evidence of either a cemetery on the site, or buried alongside an early church.
The following photo shows a late Roman / early Christian burial found near the western end of the church:
Later mediaeval burials which had been cut through during later building works as the church developed:
Grimes records how the church before the Great Fire changed over the centuries, and was a more complex structure than the simple rectangular church built by Wren on the site.
Excavations were able to provide dates to the structures found within the crypt, and these are labelled as we walk around the crypt today. Some of the earliest walls from the 12th century:
And the 11th century:
Grimes records that the earliest tower may not have been in the same location as the current tower. An early tower was probable given that St Bride’s is one of the churches recorded as sounding the curfew in the fourteenth century, however it may have been separate to the main church to avoid putting too much strain on what was a comparatively slight structure of the early medieval church.
Grimes summarises that the “the presence of an early church here with a Celtic dedication owes something to the use of the area as a burial ground since Roman times has much in it that is attractive”.
Having seen the crypt, the Roman floor, and read Grimes’ comments about the natural gravel on which the floor was probably built, a second look outside the church is instructive. The following view is looking along St Brides Avenue, which as can be seen, is lower than the church:
In the following photo, I am looking back up St Bride’s Avenue from the east. This view shows the gradual increase in height towards the western end of the church.
The Old Bell on the right, is an old pub, claiming to have been built by Sir Christopher Wren in the 1670s for workmen and masons working on the church of St Bride’s.
The following view is looking along Bride Lane at the eastern end of the church, showing how high the church is, compared to the ground level at the east.
As Grimes gives the level of the Roman floor as about 10 feet below Wren’s church floor, the level of the Roman floor and the natural gravel is probably at the same level as Bride Lane.
This is rather unusual, as there is usually a depth of “made ground” (the artificial deposits of human occupation that raise the level of the ground) in London between the natural surface, Roman remains, and the surface level of today.
It could be that as St Bride’s was built on the western banks of the River Fleet (see the earlier Rocque map extract for the location of the Fleet), that the descending gravels found by Grimes from west to east were part of the bank towards the river, and this gave less opportunity for man made deposits to build up.
Walking around the outside of the church, and there are a number of carvings on the church, including the following by or to E.D. and dated 1702 – the time when the tower of the church was being completed.
I did find a number of interesting references to St Bride’s when researching newspaper archives. One of the earliest dates from the 9th of August, 1716, where deaths in the City of London were reported.
One of these deaths was a person “Killed by several bullets, shot from a Blunderbuss at St Brides” – which raises all manner of questions, sadly not answered in the newspaper.
The death was part of the Bills of Mortality, records of deaths in London, along with their cause (and an example of how I am easily distracted when researching topics). The following table is the Bill of Mortality for London for the week from the 24th to the 31st of July, 1716:
Causes of death were much more descriptive of their actual perceived cause in the 18th century.
The names of some need a bit of deciphering, for example “Chrisoms”.
A Chrisom was a piece of cloth laid over a child’s head when they were being baptised or christened, and would have probably been used at St Bride’s. The term was also used to describe the death of a child if they had died within a month of their baptism.
Bills of Mortality show a story over time, recording the causes and number of deaths of Londoners – a topic for a future post.
St Bride’s is a fascinating church, one of a few that have a Roman floor in their crypt. All Hallows by the Tower is another church where evidence of Roman buildings can be seen in the crypt (see this post).
A history that is almost 2,000 years old, and with a role that is relevant today, providing a spiritual home to the publishing industries and those following the profession of journalism, where journalists continue to report from war zones across the world.
If you are in the vicinity of Fleet Street, St Bride’s is very much worth a visit.
I had hoped to cover Bridewell, which was just to the south of the church (as can be seen in the Rocque map), but ran out of time – also a topic for a future post.